Convenience And Control

The digitization of film is changing the ways it is produced and consumed, rapidly, threatening the elimination of film from the industry, entirely. In the first chapter of his book, Streaming : Movies, Media, And Instant Access, Wheeler Winston Dixon discusses the ways in which the 800px-Projecteur_cinématographique_35mmdigitization process has changed the industry,

Film has vanished, but the image remains, albeit in a new sleeker format. It isn’t a question of whether it is good or bad; it’s simply a fact (2).

Films are becoming digitized rapidly— the films are the same but the platforms are changing and the way we watch and access film, books and other information is increasingly through digital technologies, leaving analog formats and technologies in the past.

As consumers, it is easy to think that these technologies provide us with more control over viewing media. These digital platforms allow access to films, television shows at our leisure, and in our own space, on our own devices. There is no need to sit through commercials on television, as episodes are made available on demand or on the web shortly after they are aired on television. We can decide what content we wish to watch, how and where, and with who but there is still the question of content and control. These new platforms allow for these products to be ever more prominent in our everyday lives. It is clear that the consumption experience of film or television is changing, especially home-viewing. Every Friday, I used to walk down to the video rental store and rent my two films for the weekend. I never had cable growing up and was rarely allowed to watch television, but always allowed to watch movies, so I occupied myself with two films at a time. I had to make sure I picked well so that I would be able to re-watch them at least twice over the weekend. My source of expertise was the owner, a veteran and film buff, who would sometimes even let me rent the ‘R’ films when I was underage– especially if they were war flicks– because he viewed me as fellow film buff. Now when I want to see a film, I log onto Netflix with thousands of options. I check the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, which provides me with reviews from hundreds of people, not just the owner of the rental place. If I do not like the movie when it starts, I can just stop and quickly choose another. It is so convenient!

Convenience is everything– but if only some content is conveniently made available, will we make efforts to seek out others, and what do we have the potential of missing? What is lost in the experience, when it is so convenient for us to access digital content?

Dixon highlights his concerns with this control over content, and the digitization process. While many films are being digitized, what about the ones that are not? He claims, “they will cease to exist”(5). Digitization is an expensive process, but who gets to choose what is digitized and what is not– for films it comes down to who owns the content. This means that some films may simply be forgotten, because they are not deemed worthy for digitization.

It’s easy to see that the rush to streaming creates many new ways to “monetize” existing films, music, and books in a way that perpetuates the consumer’s dependence on the supplier and ensures a constant revenue stream not only to access but also to store, download, or view the works one has supposedly “purchased” (58)

The major studios, therefore have more control over more aspects of how we consume their products. Instead of buying a DVD and owning it, you may never completely own a digital film purchased through your computer, as it is still connected to the studio, which now will have control over the streaming. The studios will increasingly attempt to make the most money off of the content they own through controlling digital platforms. While convenient for you, it means the consumer has less control and ownership.

This year Paramount made the decision to stop distributing film to theaters, releasing everything in digital form.  It was the first major studio to do so, but it may be that others are soon to follow. This is dangerous for the independent theaters, which cannot afford the transfer from film projection technologies to digital projection technologies. Major theaters have been able to with help from the major studios, but independent theaters are left to crowdfund. This article quotes Edward Scheissl, an independent theater owner who explains the issue.

Basically, the largest distributors, like Fox, Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers, and Paramount, got together with the largest exhibitors, like Regal, Cinemark, and AMC, and decided on this set of standards. They set up deals called “virtual print fees” where those larger companies could sign on and get a $1,000 kickback every time they play a digital movie. However, those don’t work for smaller exhibitors like us. We can’t sign onto those, and if we did, we’d be boxed into playing certain films from certain distributors. So, essentially small theaters and small distributors are out of the loop and this became a huge cost to both of us, while the biggest players were essentially getting it paid for.

The move from film to digital has its affects on independent consumers and independent theater owners alike. They are monopolizing on the technology. Access to these technologies is crucial for advancement, but they are denying it to certain exhibitors. It is another way in which the big six are increasingly gaining power in the industry. What is convenient for the studios, may be made to seem convenient for consumers, but there is the threat of further homogenization of film culture.

Outside Work Cited:

Marine, Joe. “Paramount Has Reportedly Ended Distribution on Film. What Will it Mean for Independent Theaters”. No Film School. 24 Jan 2014, web.

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