Industry Report: Digital
Cinema and New Technologies
by Michael Gubbins – MCG Film and Media
18/04/2011 - Michael Gubbins is a writer, journalist and consultant, specialising in film and media and with a particular focus on digital change.The former editor of leading film trade Screen International (2004-2009), he has since cre¬ated his own consultancy business, MCG Film and Media, writing reports and working on strategy with bodies around Europe, including Cine Regio, BAFTA, Power to the Pixel, Swedish Film Institute, Rotterdam international film festival, Europa Cinemas, Olsberg SPI and the UK Film Council.Recent reports include Digital Revolution: The Active Audience for Cine Regio.
What are the driving forces of the digital shifting?
I would argue very strongly that one of the things we don’t want more of, even though it seems to be the driving force, is technology. Why did the iPod work when it has been ten years since the MP3 had being invented? The potential to down¬load music through MP3 had existed for ten years before the iPod came along, but the iPod didn’t feel like technology. The days when you were worried about roaming, when you have to make an active effort to see when you move somewhere to change something, that’s technology. What we are moving toward is a world in which we don’t want to see the technology and I think it is important when we talk about cinema.
Things will grow if the consumers will stop to feel the technology behind the content. On the other side, the less distribution of content is seen like technology, the more it will be difficult to operate with the existing business models.
Technology drives changing consumer patterns in what is increasingly a demand-led economy. All the changes are happening in a fragmented manner. Technologies are adopted – or rejected – at varying rates; and different demographic groups adopt dif¬ferent consumption patterns. This fragmentation means that our existing models are undermined and collapse before new ones can be put in place.
How will business models evolve?
What we are certainly discovering very painfully right now, is that the current business models are undermined before they are put in place. Our old business model cannot work in this new world.
There will be losers and the industry needs to accept this reality. Some cinemas will close, more cinemas will open. A lot of the smaller distributors struggle in the world we are moving towards.
There is not a clear business model. What is certain is that the business model developed over 100 years of 35mm prints of producer-sales-distribu¬tion-exhibition cannot survive in its current form in a multiplatform world. The system of film rights and strict release windows will be all but impos¬sible to maintain.
We are only at the start of this world. Just think that DVD overtook VHS as the majority of rentals in the world of blockbuster in 2003, only 7 years ago. We are only right at the beginning of the shift away from the physical world. We tend to think that we now understand the shape of the digital industry but in fact we are at the start of another wave of changes that are revolutionary: Internet-enabled television, home entertainment hubs, personalised search and web services, richer social media, 3D TV, Web 2.0 and more.
Why is the cinema industry not as affected as the music industry?
The reason why we are not in the same difficulties is because it takes a night to download a film when it takes a couple of minutes to download a piece of music.
What we do not know and can not control is the speed with which things are going to happen.
Is 3D changing the business model of the American studios?
Hollywood studios have decided to reduce the number of films they make to put all of their ener¬gy into 3D movies. Europeans will have to follow their business model. In the long run, Hollywood studios will be dominating the screens even more than now.
Do you think there will be a decline of theatrical distribution?
I do not think so. The proliferation of platforms and wide access to films does not necessarily lead to theatrical decline. In fact, digital experience in other industries suggests the opposite. Ubiquitous live football on television has increased crowds at games; piracy and downloads have served to increase interest in live music, which for some artists has become the key revenue earner. The cin¬ema itself was at its lowest ebb in the 1980s and its recovery was directly linked to the growth of home entertainment, alongside improvements to choice and comfort.
Digital cinema is past the point of no return and we will begin to see costs come down and con¬sumer choice rise.
Producers may have a more direct relationship with cinema and should be looking to marry audi¬ence engagement and experience.
You can exploit 3D techniques to sell content other than movies. Some distributors diffused several operas. The concept works very well in the UK and in Scandinavia, where opera is sold for months and months in advance at 35 €.
The cinema is not competing with other platforms for showing films but for consumer time. The 24 hours in a day remains the one fixed factor for cinema and the wider entertainment industry. The real issue is that we are all increasingly time poor.
What’s different about cross media?
Cross-platform approaches provide a beautiful challenge. You have different media platforms that are incompatible – like a book, a film, a website or mobile phone – and you’re trying to figure out how you can get a story to work across all these platforms. It’s a complete reverse of technical con¬vergence – which is when all these media devices merge into one platform that can do anything. What’s different about cross-media is that you retain the integrity of the different platforms while seeing how you can bring them together. It’s also challenging to think about how you design these experiences so that people remain immersed in the story, even though they are closing down one device and moving onto another, which they will interact with in a completely different way.
How has entertainment changed as a result of multi-platform distribution?
Although distributing across more than one plat¬form is not solely a contemporary phenomenon, in recent years, multi-platform distribution has changed the entertainment industry and experi¬ence of entertainment in many ways.
The range of media platforms available and active¬ly utilised by people has increased. In addition to television, radio, theatres and shops we now have portable media devices, game consoles, urban screens and a much greater number of channels and websites available. Everyone uses broadcast television the most, now to reach a wide range of audiences we must distribute through a wide range of platforms.
Distribution can potentially happen anywhere, with very little overhead cost. The ubiquity of networked technologies means distribution can happen with intangible methods such as Bluetooth, email, streaming online and so on.
Publication is easy. Previously, all key distribution channels were controlled by gatekeepers. Now, in addition to these traditional channels, we have channels, such as the Internet, that allow anyone to self-distribute and potentially reach large audiences.
The Internet creates global access. In contrast to location-based conventional distribution, through the Web, people from all over the globe can con¬nect at any time and form communities around shared interests and experiences.
Multiple media platforms create more consump¬tion options. People may want to watch a film online, be a part of a special preview screening in their community, have the DVD to watch with friends at home and have a digital file that enables them to watch on a portable media device whilst travelling.
Is the animation industry affected differently by new technologies?
One thing that is interesting for animation is that for the first time in History, animation has become something which is now very much in the mainstream culture of young audiences. With ani¬mation, what is interesting is how sophisticated those things start becoming.
Animation has advantages in this globalised digi¬tal world, even beyond the ones now getting most attention in 3D – and they may prove constraints.
There are less problems with language for global release. Animation, of course, also has the poten¬tial to explore beyond the physical limitations of live film. Social networks and the ability to aggregate audiences allow a different level of interaction and dialogue, perhaps changing atti¬tudes to animation as a form. A generation is growing up for whom animation is becoming a means of expression with YouTube showing the work. Low cost tools have created an interesting trend and while much work is rudimentary, there are comparisons to music crazes such as skif¬fle, punk rock etc where participation created a generation of players, even if only a few went on to do great things. Interesting that pop and rock has broken free as kids-only culture. Cross-media developments seem particularly interesting in terms of animation. These can link narrative across more than one medium with cinema being a key part.
Will cinema not disappear then?
Cinema has huge advantages – a physical space and a night out at low cost - but it must learn to explore and play to the strengths that digital cinema offers – marketing, social networking, con¬sumer data, a wider choice.
Producers of animation, as with all films, struggling with the breakdown of business mod¬els and government cuts. The future of the cinema relies on taking advantage of its strengths and building on its advantages. The difficulties distribution seem to offer producers a potential direct line to audiences by doing it themselves but these will prove extremely difficult. Animation has an historic opportunity because its position in market has been dictated by consumer percep¬tions driven by the US majors and US television. There are new opportunities but these will come only by understanding and engaging