The world movie industry is facing a devastating shakeup as it struggles to come to terms with the online era and a host of powerful new content distributors, enthusiastic video makers and pirates.
For movie fans, however the new age promises a richer choice of novel cinema products at cheaper prices delivered into your home as you want, when you want.
Those are some of the conclusions of “Digital Disruption: Cinema Moves On-line”, a new book by leading scholars of the digital age, edited by Professor Stuart Cunningham of Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) and Professor Dina Iordanova of the University of St Andrews, Scotland.
“Music, books and libraries and now cinema are facing huge challenges as the digital age advances,” Prof. Cunningham says. “Cinema has had digital production for a long time – but it has yet to come to terms with the full impact of digital distribution.”
The digital age is pitting established titans like Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Disney and Paramount against some equally muscular new content distributors such as Apple i-Tunes, Amazon, Netflix and even YouTube.
“Quite simply, it is changing the way consumers of cinema access movies,” Prof. Cunningham explains. “For a long time a very small number of big companies dominated the distribution channels – now there is a bunch of eager ‘born-digital’ players who want to deliver quality movies to you cheaper than you can access them in the cinema or video store.”
The revolution is being stoked by bigger bandwidths and faster internet speeds globally, making the downloading of feature films quicker, cheaper and more convenient.
In the process, the rewards of the new era of online moves are being reaped by the big telecommunications companies and internet service providers, whose use by consumers is surging. “They are providing the platforms which the new players like Apple and Netflix can play on,” he explains.
The big movie distributors have responded by creating their own platform, known as Hulu, which is mainly available in the US – but it doesn’t appear to have solved their dilemma, Prof. Cunningham observes.
“The music industry initially responded to the digital threat by suing teenagers and shutting down content providers like Napster – but it didn’t solve the problem for them and it won’t for cinema either,” he predicts. “In fact, the bigger and faster the internet becomes, the more piracy and content competition there is likely to be.”
Movie buffs will experience a blossoming of new cinema content from smaller movie studios around the world and even amateur video creators, keen to avail themselves of the multiplying ways to reach the consumer. This will intensify competition for the consumers’ attention, he says. “Cinema admissions in North America have declined from 5.2 billion to 3.9 billion annually in the last ten years and DVD sales are also in steep decline”.
“It looks like a rocky road ahead for the established movie businesses unless they can quickly come to terms with the opportunities offered by the digital age.”
“Digital Disruption: Cinema Moves On-line” makes sense of the short but turbulent history of on-line distribution. Its writers provide a realistic assessment of the disruptions that moving from 'analogue dollars' to 'digital cents' has provoked in the film industry. Looking closely at how the majors have dealt - often unsuccessfully - with these challenges it also pays equal attention to innovations and practices outside the mainstream.
Throughout, it is alive to important entrepreneurial innovations, showcasing the work of Mubi, Jaman, Withoutabox and IMDb. It is written by leading academic commentators who have followed the fortunes of world cinema closely and with passion, together with experienced writers close to the fluctuating fortunes of the industry.
“Digital Disruption: Cinema Moves On-line” is published by St Andrews University Press, is available from Amazon and other booksellers. Review copies are available to Australian media on request.