Distribution-Todd Whitsey



Distribution is vital to the success of any type of media from books to music to film and so on yet the manner in which all of these forms of media have changed drastically with the coming of the digital age. Looking in particular at film we can see a steady change over time with some of the more drastic changes coming in more recent years. The cinema is of course at the heart of the film industry and when we think of film we think of this cinema but are this out-dated idea? The way in which film is distributed and consumed has almost changed the cultural identity of film.
Box officer statistics from 2014 shows a startling situation for the film industry, even with huge big budget productions and box office successes from the usual film franchises the overall box office figures show a 5.2% decline levelling out at $10.3 billion in the US a huge decline from previous years but what’s worse is cinema attendance dropped by an estimated 6% to the lowest figure in over two decades. [1] Is this the death of film as we know or is there simply a cultural shift? With the huge offerings of online streaming services available such as Netflix and Amazon prime these cinema attendance figures can hardly come as too much of a shock. The rise of streaming has been at the heart of the change in distribution for many types of media and film is no different. Since its inception Netflix has continued to rise, reaching just under 100 million subscribers by April 2017. [2] In today’s environment, convenience is key and this is what Netflix undeniably offers over the cinema. Viewers can decide what they watch and when they want to at a fixed monthly cost from the comfort of their own living room and with cinema tickets in the UK continuing to rise the cheap option of streaming seems like a no brainer. Cinema tickets in the UK for 2015 were on average a staggering £7.17 up from £4.87 from only 9 years earlier showing a 48.25% rise over the decade, [3][4] hardly a cheap night when compared to Netflix’s cost of £5.99 per month. The streaming giants are not only taking over from the cinema however physical media is also worth taking into account.
From Betamax to Blu-Ray physical media has been around for decades and is forever changing formats but it isn’t going anywhere just yet despite the popularity of online streaming services but it’s certainly struggling to keep up. Sales of DVD and Blu-Ray fell to £894 million last year a decrease of 17%, falling below 1 billion for the very first time, this of course all comes at the same time that the profits of streaming services continues to soar. For the first time streaming had overtaken the sales of physical media [5] whilst the future may look bleak for physical media there are niches that could help continue to keep DVD and Blu-Ray alive.
Of course there will always be those who prefer the idea of physical media and the concept of physically owning something that they can then put on their shelves to impress their friends but moving away from the realms of blockbusters and Hollywood there can also be life for physical media coming from independent distribution companies. One of the biggest names in independent distribution is the Criterion Collection. The Criterion Collective is an incentive from the ever important Janus Films company to preserve and distribute films that they feel are of importance and cultural significance making sure that these films are not lost or forgotten about. The Criterion Collection has always been at the forefront of ideas for promoting physical media, being responsible for the popularity of things such as audio commentary and bonus content or special features. The presentation of their DVD’s is very important to them with new artwork for films being produced and often coming with booklets containing information about the films and its directors. It is things like this that online streaming cannot give to you, not only the physical content but the films itself. Whilst Netflix and Amazon prime offer a wide range of films it’s far from the amount that the Criterion Collection offers. More obscure and classic titles are few and far between on popular streaming services however this is also something that has been taken advantage of more recently As well as the usual suspects of Netflix and Amazon there are now many different streaming services offering films that can appeal to many different types of people. With services like BFI Player and Mubi starting to appear, even the most obscure and oldest films are beginning to appear available for streaming with many even making their debuts on such services.
As we continue in the age of digital streaming it seems obvious that a drastic change is going to need to happen in order to stop the inevitable coming death of physical media, unless attitudes change from consumers however this does not seem likely after all why would the masses go out and buy a DVD or Blu-Ray of a film they can easily access with the push of a button on their remote control? More importantly however is the attitudes towards cinema especially within the UK, if we continue to see these declining statistics audiences will continue to fall and prices can only get higher to make up for it. Cinema without the Cinema? Perhaps a reality coming sooner than we think.

[1] Movie box office drops 5% in 2014: what’s behind the fall, Brent Lang, 1/1/15, http://www.bostonherald.com/entertainment/movies/movie_news/2015/01/movie_box_office_drops_5_in_2014_whats_behind_the_fall
Accessed 26/04/17
[2] Netflix Statistics and Facts, Craig Smith, 18/4/17, http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/netflix_statistics-facts/
Accessed 26/04/17
[3] 1 graph that shows how expensive it’s getting to go the cinema, Peter Yeung, 30/1/16, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/uk-cinema-ticket-prices-rise-expensive-film-a6843206.html
Accessed 26/04/17
[4]The UK Box Office In 2015, BFI Research and Statistics Unit, 28/1/16, http://www.bfi.org.uk/sites/bfi.org.uk/files/downloads/bfi-uk-box-office-2015-2016-01.pdf
Accessed 26/04/17
[5] Film and TV streaming and downloads overtake DVD sales for first time, Mark Sweney, 5/1/17 https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jan/05/film-and-tv-streaming-and-downloads-overtake-dvd-sales-for-first-time-netflix-amazon-uk
Accessed 26/04/17


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