Saturday, August 10, 2013


There is so much angst and hand wringing going on about the changing film and media landscape today, that you could be lulled into thinking that poverty has been solved in Africa, given the lack of relative air time.

Climate change anyone?

No, no, the biggest problem we face is the evolving film and media industries. That's the albatross.

Give me a break.

Recently I was chatting to an active feature film producer over a beer. I'll spare you the intricate details, but his final conclusion was a wish that he had been born ten to fifteen years ago. This 'golden age' would have been optimal for his choice in lifestyle.

On some level, he is right. 1995 to 2005 was the utopia of the modern film era. Big money, big budgets, big sales of content. Nobody lost. Right?


The audience lost. You were being screwed, paying huge margins on DVDs that cost a tiny fraction of their retail price to produce. And oh, the money flowed.

From you, directly into Hollywood bank accounts.

And now, after years of being hoodwinked into overpaying for those shiny disks, you are expected to feel sorry for the film industry's economic problems? Why?

Why wouldn't audiences rebel against this Faustian pact when given the chance to get a digital copy for a 90% discount, or heaven forbid, for free? What loyalty have we built to our product?

Hint: the answer is the same as the number of people who think that celebrities are underpaid.

But where does that leave us? People want content. Filmmakers and visual storytellers want to create their art. Can't we all just get along?

Of course we can, but it starts with some truths.

First, the DVD market is never coming back. The bottom has fallen out and it is gone forever. Yes, there are still significant DVD (and Blu Ray) sales, but the numbers have been significantly deteriorating every year since 2009. These numbers will continue to deteriorate until the DVD is extinct.

Personally, I don't understand why this is a surprise. Getting your movies, TV and media quickly and cheaply online, with access to everything ever made, trumps ownership of a destructible disk. Hands down.

Second, we have to start rebuilding trust with our audiences. Overcharging a family of five for cinema tickets is not the answer. Neither is longing for a time when we could charge our audiences a 900% markup on a DVD.

Instead, we have to show our audiences that there is value in cinema and visual storytelling. We have to remind them that the experience engendered by film's blending of the visual, the written, and the aural arts is what makes it the supreme artistic medium and the greatest portal for exploration of the human condition.

By seeing the value in the art, audiences will comprehend the need to support the artists.

And finally, we need to understand that, despite the current tumult, the future of the film and content industries is based on an equation.

I grew tired of hearing the moaning and consternation about the opacity of the future of film and media, without any effort being directed to define the problem. So, rather than join the chorus of the damned, I instead present to you a model that attempts to capture the albatross. I call it simply, 'The Equation'.


                                                        Declining DVD Revenues
                                                     Rising viewing by 'mass' online
                                  (i.e. rising online advertising and subscription revenue)
                      Decrease in production costs and studio overheads due to new technology
                                 (including marketing and distribution costs of each film)

                                                    = health/future of the film and content business worldwide.

Currently, 'The Equation' is unbalanced. The decline in DVD sales has been so enormous, and so rapid, that the other factors have not adjusted.


But eventually, evolution will occur. The promise of online is both boom and bust. Desert and oasis.

Online means that, instead of charging a small market a HUGE amount for a DVD, you charge a small amount for the online version. That's the bust, relative to the DVD selling 'golden age'. The upside, however, is that DVD's reach only markets, but with online you can reach the world. Suddenly, everyone with an internet connected device is a possible audience member, and lower price points means you can more realistically sell to a greater proportion of these people too.

You replace a fixed market of DVD sales with exponential rises in viewing by the 'mass' online.

The new paradigm also brings the promise of cost efficiencies for filmmakers, which will be essential to the industries' future health. I have covered this third element of 'The Equation' previously...

...but, for clarity, digital filmmaking technology should be driving production and distribution costs down. No more expensive film stock to shoot on. No more expensive developing of the film stock. No more expensive sending of physical copies of the film worldwide. A penny saved is a penny earned.

Unfortunately, the film industry is notoriously slow in accepting efficiencies, and this improvement has not taken hold.


So there you have it. A picture of the elements that make up the future of the film and content industries. Not a bleak armageddon, but a slowly evolving new model, with factors that are gradually rebalancing themselves.

Surely, this new found clarity should be welcomed with a warm embrace by filmmakers and visual storytellers alike?

No, the Producer informed me after another resigned sip of his beer. I had just spelled out 'The Equation' for him, and he didn't like it.

No. It would be much better to go back to the world ten to fifteen years ago.

Better for whom exactly?

For Producers. For him.

But not the audience?



There's just no helping some people.

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