Digital Disribution Essay

To what extent does digital distribution affect the marketing and consumption of media products in the area you have studied?

Digital distribution involves the many platforms available that allows audiences to view films. Before the invention of the internet and viewing methods such as DVDs, the only way that people could go and view a film would be at the cinema. In that day and age, films would be distributed by huge wheels of film being sent around the country to cinemas. These were very expensive and could very easily be damaged, which could ruin the viewing experience for the audience very easily. This method also meant that only a limited number of cinemas could show a film at the same time as there were limited numbers of the reels. Along with the internet came a much more efficient system. Films can now be sent on secure files over the internet; this means that many more cinemas can play the film at once, they are of a higher quality and there is a reduced risk of damage that could have previously potentially ruined your cinema experience. Since then, many other ways for audiences to view and consume films have come about, such as: DVDs, Blu Rays, Video on Demand services, plus much more. Films have also become much easier for audiences to consume through technical convergence as new technologies have come together to create a new way of doing something. Almost everybody owns at least one device that can connect to the internet and so these new consumer methods are now available at the click of a button. Companies can also use digital distribution for marketing; this is especially used by the larger media conglomerates, the Big Six. These larger conglomerates have a much higher budget and so they often distribute their films through both digital and theatrical markets in order to target a much larger and broader audience, which also gives them more opportunity to market and advertise.

An example of a member of the Big Six, Warner Bros, using their power in the media hierarchy to their advantage when coming to digital distribution is for the film ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. This tentpole film was released for theatrical consumption on the 13th of December 2012 for Europe and the 14th for India, Canada and the United States. The opening weekend at cinemas across the globe earned $222.6 million. ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ was the 15th film in history to reach $1 billion. This success may have been aided by the marketing of the film through theatrical trailers before other similar films. The trailer was first released on the  21 December 2011 in the US before ‘The Adventures of Tintin’, distributed by another member of the Big Six… Paramount Pictures. This was a similar film and so Warner Bros used targeted advertising in order to get the word of the film across to their target audience. However, the company also released the trailer on the internet through untargeted advertising in an attempt to broaden the audience. At the same point of the theatrical release, three video games were also released in attempt to encourage people to view the film. The member of the Big Six, Warner Bros, also distributed the film through non theatrical exhibition. On the 19th of March 2013, the tentpole film was released on DVD, Blu Ray and Blu Ray 3D in the US. During the first week of release, 1,073,815 units were sold. The film was then released on DVD on the 8th of April 2013 in the UK. In order to encourage more people to spend on non theatrical release further down the line, on the 5th of November 2013, a DVD and Blu Ray option was released with 13 minutes of additional footage and three bonus discs containing approximately nine hours of special features. This further encouraged people to buy the DVDs and could be done due to the large budget of the conglomerate distributor. Although the popularity of the film is a soaring success for Warner Bros; this could also be seen as a disadvantage as with the simple search of “The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Online”, many free online piracy sites appear such as ‘Vodzilla’ and ‘’. These sites have come about due to the invention and freedom of the internet and so therefore steal the profits from the conglomerates hands. Viewing experience on sites such as these for consumers is also particularly low with poor quality, however this does not stop people from using them rather than paying to see the film through theatrical or legitimate non theatrical exhibition.

However, not all companies can afford to go about distribution in the same way as conglomerates from the Big Six due to their limited finance and budgets. ‘A Field In England’ overcame this problem by using an innovative method of release called day and date release; this meant that on the 5th of July 2013, ‘A Field In England’ was available to watch on cinema screens, DVD, VOD and free terrestrial broadcast on Film 4. The film was shown on 17 independent cinema screens and on the opening weekend took £21,399 in theatrical revenues from 17 venues. It was also available on Freeview on Film 4; this meant that a much wider audience could watch the film for free on television as some of the population may not have Sky and so would not have been able to view the film if it had been available to view on Sky. Even though this was the case, 77% of the cinema audience said they knew it was available free on television. The film averaged 367,000 viewers during the Film4 free screening, representing a 3.13% share of television audience – up 8% for that slot in the schedule in terms of audiences and 13% on share. The total television reach of the film was 918,000 viewers, or 1.8% of the population. Combined HMV and Amazon DVD and Blu-Ray sales on Friday and Saturday reached 1,462 with Blu-Ray (which is more expensive) outselling DVD. The film was also the most watched on Film4OD during the full three days of the opening weekend. The release method benefited the profits made by the film as it broadened the target audience and allowed many more people to view it than if it had been distributed traditionally. This method not only allowed people skeptical about the film to watch it for free, but it allowed the audience to choose which environment they preferred most for their viewing experience. The innovative release method also caught the eyes of many and so was included in many newspaper articles and radio broadcasts alongside a large amount of online attention; this spread the word about the film and so encouraged more to go and watch it… further broadening the target audience.

Another example of a film released in a similar way to ‘A Field In England’ is ‘A Late Quartet’. The film was released simultaneously in theatres, on Sky Box Office, on the Curzon Home Cinema VOD site and through FilmFlex services. The release aimed to create a ‘premium’ window of theatrical and key VOD services, keeping DVD and other on–demand releases in their later conventional window. The aim was to break even on theatrical revenues and to add 10,000 buys across all the non– theatrical platforms, generating £50,000 to the bottom line (assuming a 50–50 share of £100,000 total revenues). The marketing and distribution budget was more than £200,000, including £100,000 support from the BFI Distribution Fund. Curzon Film World had predicted 10,000 sales on all non–theatrical platforms but ended with 3,000 rentals and 2,000 downloads from Sky, 300 views on Curzon Home Cinema and 705 from FilmFlex. However on the other hand, the £520,375 taken theatrically is more than half of the US takings, well over the 10% usually expected of such releases. It could be argued that even if the film was produced and distributed by a member of the Big Six it may not have created much more revenue as the reduced revenue may have been because of either the content of the plot itself or the target audience. Therefore, the release of the film using the day and date release method allowed a much larger audience to enjoy and consume the film.

Another example of an innovative way that a smaller company has overcome the struggle of the domination of larger conglomerates within the Big Six is Red State by Kevin Patrick Smith. In 2011, Kevin Smith returned to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, USA. Here, Smith showed his latest creation, ‘Red State’. Red State is a 2011 American independent horror action film based on the Westboro Baptist Church. At the festival, Smith screened the film and then began a presentation. In this thirty minute speech, Smith shared his views about how hard it is now to make it into the film world and release a film and how the independent film genre “is dying”. He then explained how Red State had a production budget of $4 million, Smith saw this as a good figure and okay amount to retain back. However, he then continued to explain how the advertising and investing of the film would be a further $20 million, therefore meaning that the film would have costed $24 million to produce and advertise. Smith then expressed his disgust at this and surprised many with his decision to take the investing and advertising aspect into his own hands with his own production company, ‘Smod Films’. Smith had previously created an interest and audience using his ‘Smodcast’ which gave him a strong starting point. Smith’s aim was to set up home cinemas and screen it across the US. He also wanted to throw no advertisement towards the film,  but just to tour with it. During the lifetime of the film, only $1,104,682 was received; this was only approximately a quarter of the price of creating it. In his first screening, the film managed to raise $204,230. Red State generated the least for profits and ratings out of all of Smith’s films.This therefore shows that Smith’s individual release was most probably not the best thing for the film when considering figures and statistics. However, it clearly displays how independent filmmakers can create and release their films without a third member party. Although the film release was not as successful as films produced and distributed by conglomerates in the Big Six, the amount of money spent on both production and distribution of the film was a small fraction of the money spent on producing or distributing alone on larger tentpole films.

Smaller companies can also go about releasing the film solely through non theatrical exhibition in an attempt to overcome the domination of media conglomerates. An example of this is ‘Special Correspondents’. At first, in November 2014, it was rumoured that ‘Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions’ had purchased the film rights for the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America and South Africa. However, in April 2015, these rumours were shut down as it was announced that the US VOD company, Netflix, had pre-bought the distribution rights for the whole world for $12 million. The film then had it’s world premier at the ‘Tribeca Film Festival’ on the 22nd of April 2016; this was followed by an audience discussion with the cast members. Following this, Special Correspondents was released a week later on the 29th of April 2016. The users of the online streaming site were on average around the right age for the target audience of the film; this meant that by distributing the film on Netflix, the company were directly targeting the correct audience. With technical convergence and the increasingly common attitude towards owning gadgets, Netflix is available to anyone at the click of a button. As well as this, the film was featured in the recommended section for millions of users and so the film was being consumed by a much higher figure. The fact that the film would only be available on Netflix also caught the attention of many and so the creators of the film were receiving advertisement and marketing through the distribution method alone. By distributing exclusively to Netflix, the ‘Special Correspondents’ team were avoiding the larger media conglomerates, which increased the success of their film release significantly.

The many different platforms of digital distribution has changed the way in which films can be marketed,  produced, distributed and consumed. With the help of technical convergence, independent filmmakers and smaller distribution companies now hold more of a chance of a successful release under the domination of the Big Six conglomerates who have distributed 90% of films. This is because there are now many more ways in how a distributer can release their film, whether it be through theatrical exhibition in the cinema or through non theatrical exhibition through methods such as DVDs, Blu Ray, VoD or online streaming. However, these more free methods of distribution has also impacted the industry in a negative sense; this is because it is now much easier for people to pirate films and distribute them illegally. The increased availability of methods for distribution, such as day and date release, has also encouraged guerilla filmmaking. This is because with improved technology that is available to almost anyone mixed with the independent distribution methods that can be achieved on a low budget, people are excited by the idea of creating and distributing their own creation. With this, people are overcoming the concentration of ownership of the larger conglomerates. In the future it could be predicted that the varied digital distribution methods will further adapt, which may lead to the decrease of domination from large conglomerates and result in an increase of guerilla filmmaking and independent releases.


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