This past weekend I attended BlogOrlando , the wonderfully enjoyable and educational social media conference put on by Josh Hallett, the writer of the Hyku blog and one of the guys at Voce Communications, the other being Mike Manuel. BlogOrlando was started by Josh as a way to bring some of the local Florida online talent together in a place that wasn’t New York or San Francisco. It’s also, according to him, an excuse to call up the people he knows in the online media space and get them together sharing their knowledge, hashing out what’s actually important and just talking in general.

I had attended last year and this year Josh asked me to lead a session on social media and entertainment. One question that came up, and which I wanted to focus on now, was this: When everything is available how do you decide what to watch?

Let me explain. Right now if I decide I’m in the mood for a comedy my options are:

  • Go to a theater (Options: Ghost Town, Burn After Reading, Tropic Thunder, etc. But more expensive and dependent on scheduling working out.)
  • Rent a movie through Netflix (Options: Almost unlimited. Just about whatever I want to find I can find)
  • Rent a movie through iTunes (Options: More limited than Netflix, but more immediate gratification since I don’t have to manage a queue and wait for the mailed envelope)
  • Find something streaming online (Options: Cruise to, or other site, but dependent on what studios have decided are essentially expendable)
  • Find something in my own DVD collection (Options: Largely Marx Bros., Kevin Smith, Monty Python and some other favorites that are comfortable to me but which I still enjoy.)

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that I decide I need to watch something new to me, even if it’s not new in theaters. There are four components that will go into my decision process:

  1. Ratings: On a scale of X, how much did someone like/dislike this film
  2. Reviews: A more nuanced version of Ratings, adding content or explanations for opinions
  3. Recommendations: An active endorsing of a film as being worthy of time/money that is dependent on the reputation of the person doing the recommending
  4. Marketing: How the studio is making an appeal to the audience for their time/money

Think about how many times you’ve heard the following during a conversation about what movie to watch: A) “The trailers looked really good,” B) “The reviews have been pretty good” or C) Well (name of friend/co-worker) saw it and he/she liked it.”

In addition to these are things like allegiances to actors/directors or others involved in the film. No one actually needs to convince me to have Zach and Miri Make a Porno, Kevin Smith’s upcoming film, since I’m already a huge fan of his. The external influences above play into it and can shade my desire (or lack of desire if you actively dislike someone) but I’m still going to check it out regardless.

So the deciding factors then become what movies I’ve heard of, either through press coverage or paid marketing, and how they’ve been reviewed or recommended by those whose opinions I trust.

And that’s where it comes down to what I’ll dub the Billy Joel Truth #1: It’s a matter of trust.

There are so many movie blogs out there and so many people, on sites like Spout, sharing what movies they’ve watched and which ones they’ve liked/hated/are indifferent towards. So the goal of those looking for recommendations is to gravitate toward those who they’ve found have either similar tastes or who have consistently pointed to movies that were interesting even if they weren’t always precisely on-target.

In actuality our decisions are not made on any individual component but instead a compilation of all four. If a trusted friend says a movie isn’t very good then we’ll lower the influence of that really great trailer. If someone whose opinion we don’t trust says the movie was really funny than we might also give the marketing campaign less weight.

In fact I’d be willing to guess that in almost all cases the opinions of those around us, whether they’re trusted or discounted, will trump a studio’s marketing campaign. We’re social animals and we engage in behaviors that strengthen those social relationships. Either we try to fit in or we try to be influential. And we know that the marketing and advertising of the film, as with just about any other consumer product, may not be representative of the finished product.

So back to the core question: What do we watch when everything is available?

The answer is that we watch what we feel we should be watching. But what feel we should be watching is guided by the recommendations of those we’ve identified, in our opinion, to be trustworthy and influential.