Is Cinema Dead? A Tale Of Streaming Services, Piracy And Independent Film

abandoned cinema

The history of film has been punctuated by a series of major industry-changing events. Whether it was the introduction of sound, the birth of technicolor or the advent to digital, the consensus was always “It’ll never catch on.”

But catch on it did, and the movie industry has not only survived but grown from strength to strength. Enormous movies consisting of huge incredible visual effects rake in hundreds of millions of dollars each week, and the stories on the screen emanate through culture worldwide.

Movies themselves may have come a long way since the first moving images, but what about the way we see them? The cinema has always been the first port of call when it comes to movies, but VHSs, DVDs and Blu-rays have revolutionised the way we consume entertainment at home. Recent years have witnessed the rise of the latest turning point in the history of film – the Internet.

Is cinema dead?

Keeping up with technology

Technology is advancing at an incredible pace, and companies can no longer afford to be content in their positions at the top of what was once a stable market. Want a DVD on a Friday night? Head over to Blockbuster. Want the latest album of your favourite band? HMV has all you need. Not anymore. The companies were well aware of their market dominance, and this arrogance is one of the reasons most of them are now in administration.

Blockbuster and HMV were content to say that “downloadable music is just a fad and people will always want the atmosphere and experience of a music store rather than online shopping.” But as they sat at the top of the pile other companies were rapidly coming up behind them, and the film industry was largely unaware of the changes to come.

Apple’s iTunes totally changed the way people consume music. Downloading has contributed to the death of high street music shops, but what about film? Well, you tell me. When was the last time you went into town to rent a DVD?

Immediacy and convenience

Online shopping is, for many, the best thing since sliced bread. Undoubtedly responsible for the death of many high street chains, the ability to buy things without getting out of bed is unrivalled by any brick and mortar shop. The desire for immediate consumption has not just inspired the advent of ecommerce but is also encouraged (and worsened?) by it. People do not just become used to the instant availability of the things they want – anything else becomes second rate.

So regarding the film industry, the evolution of film streaming services is a natural progression.

Setting the trend

The on-demand Internet streaming service Netflix has roots in a traditional rental service, where it used to operate a mail order DVD service. In 1999 it offered its subscription-based digital distribution service, and as of April 2013 had 36.3 million subscribers.

The ability to instantly stream movies and TV shows from the laptop, desktop or games console undeniably ties into the fact we are so used to having everything else “on demand.” With music, images and information available at the touch of a button it is no surprise the renting of films and TV has gone the same way.

Heading down to the video shop on a Friday night is a thing of the past – with Netflix, LoveFilm and NowTV the latest blockbusters are streamed directly into your living room. The fact the service now comes pre-installed on many devices is just the last nail in Blockbuster’s coffin.

Indieflix – bringing the market to the audience

843742_571416862870897_1936466580_oWhile Netflix led the way with internet streaming services, other companies began to follow suit. When it comes to different markets, people have begun to realise the potential of using the Internet to supply audiences with their preferences, rather than forcing audiences to come to them.

Indieflix is a subscription-based digital streaming service dedicated to independent films of all kinds. Established in 2005 by Scilla Andreen, filmmaker and Emmy-nominated costume designer, the service was inspired by the frustrating and complicated one-sided distribution deals of independent films. Much like Netflix, the service began life as a DVD distribution company, but now the online streaming service supplies global audiences with independent shorts, feature length narratives and documentaries.

The Internet has sent Indieflix from strength to strength, and with an Xbox Live App the service can be streamed directly to the audiences who would have previously struggled to find the films they want. With the advent of the blockbuster and the multiplex cinema catering for the masses, independent film has struggled more and more to be distributed to the right audiences, and the independent cinema is a remnant of a bygone era.

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Indieflix, however, was set up as a way of commercially reimbursing independent filmmakers in a struggling market as well as supplying audiences passionate about indie films. The service implements an RPM model (Royalty Pool Minutes), which simply means that for every minute of a film watched, the filmmaker gets paid.

Supplying both filmmakers and film lovers alike, Indieflix is a perfect example of companies using the immediacy of the Internet to not only supply niche audiences with their ideal viewing habits but also commercially reimburse the filmmakers and ensure those films can continue to be made.

The future of cinema

But what does this all mean for cinemas?

The death of cinema seems to be the last thing on people’s minds at the moment. Indeed, of the sixteen films that have grossed over a billion dollars, twelve of them were released within the last five years. That certainly doesn’t seem like the buying behaviour of nations in a global economic recession.

Concerns about how piracy affects sales in recent years have encouraged Hollywood studios to stamp down on the downloading and free distribution of movies. The ongoing battle between consumers and producers is certainly no secret.

However piracy is rarely malicious – people pirate movies because there is often no alternative. Despite the enormous opportunities that Internet streaming gives studios, they seem intent on clinging on to their old habits of releasing films to DVD long after they are released in cinemas. What about people who can’t / don’t want to go to the cinema? Young parents, poor students, disabled people, ill people – if you miss the window of theatrical release you’re in trouble.

And what about regional release? Django Unchained was released on Christmas Day 2012 in the US The film came out in the UK nearly a month later, on January 18th. And if you live in India, you had to wait until the middle of March to see it. There was a further month before the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray.

People just cannot get what they want when they want it. In a world of immediate consumption this is a problem. It encourages people to go down easier, alternative avenues to get their desired products. It just so happens that the easier avenue in question is usually The Pirate Bay.

The solution?

Take a look at the examples set by Netflix and Indieflix. The huge success of these services, coupled with the fact that films continue to rake in billions of dollars at the cinema box offices clearly suggest that people pirate because it is convenient. Because traditional methods of film distribution force them to.

If studios want to win the fight against piracy, they need to loosen restrictions rather than tighten them. Releasing films universally – across all platforms on the same day – is making them accessible to every audience. If people want to go to the cinema, they can. If they want to stream it to their Xboxes because they are unwell or the kids are in bed, they can.

Cinema isn’t dead, but if studios don’t let go of the past it’s them, not pirates, who will run it into the ground.

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One thought on “Is Cinema Dead? A Tale Of Streaming Services, Piracy And Independent Film

  1. Pingback: A Field In England Review | Screen Watch

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