Friday, January 27, 2006

Rethinking Distribution

Today is the release of the film "Bubble" directed by Steven Soderbergh, and with it comes an experiment. Bubble is part of an experiment in releasing movies to theaters and homes at the same time, so it's available for downloading and will be available on DVD in stores on Tuesday. This is a new way in releasing a film, and it has the industry taking note. Where this model may prefer the distributor it does not favor by theater owners. This new distribution model is driven by two things. Technology and economics. On the economic side it is no secret that Hollywood studios receive a substantial amount of revenue from DVD sales and rentals. In 2004 47% of the distribution pie came from DVD's. That's $21.0 billion dollars from DVD sales and rentals alone. The other parts of the pie came from pay TV (9%), Television (28%), and theater distribution, which was 16%. On the technology side it is now possible to reach more people digitally then through other conventional means of distribution. This includes Pay TV, and the internet. Though downloading movies to your hard drive is something of a new way of distributing movies technology such as the i-pod, and the PS2 player are making that market more viable, and a producer would be a fool to not look at added revenue for his or her film.

As televisions and computers begin to merge and create new ways to deliver product to viewers eventually the distribution model of yesteryear will go the way of the dinosaur. There will still be a market for theater distribution, but a producer will not have to look at that as his or her only source of revenue. Some would say that this is the end of theater distribution, and why would any person go see a movie in a theater when they can see it in the privacy of their own home? All I can say to that is that the argument isn't something new. A little known invention called the television once was once thought of as the killer of movies. People thought long time ago that why would anyone go see a movie in a theater when they can watch TV for free in their home. Well guess what? The movies didn't die, and I'm happy to report that movie theaters are still in business. What happened? Well it's the old evolve or die syndrome. What happened to theater going was that it was transformed, There were movies in 3-D, in technoscope, and yes technicolor, and a movement happened that revolutionized the industry for a decade and that was drive-ins. Yes the movie audience was evolving and they wanted more, so Hollywood gave them more. Sure these new theaters were sometimes called passion pits, and they seemed to be just a fad, but it worked, and Hollywood produced some interesting films during this period.

Another fact was that the movies were driven by a younger crowd who had more discretionary funds to spend on entertainment. It is happening again. Once more the distribution market is changing, and once more the audience is beginning to change. There are more films being produced now then there ever have been, and the market has opened up to include niche type markets. Sure Hollywood produces the blockbuster, and that is what it does well, but foreign films, art films, and even B-films are making it to the market, and being distributed through alternative distribution.

It's a new day in American film-making, and the distribution model is changing. With all change there is resistance, but as the villainous Borg of Star Trek would say "resistance is futile". Change will happen slowly at first, and then it will be business as usual. For the independent to the studio film-maker these are changing times, and they are exciting times. Distribution of a film is work, and it always has been, but now it's becoming more and more wide open and all who want to see their film succeed can now try and step up to the plate. Nothing worth while is easy, but then it never is.

No comments: