The Movie Industry Future


An IMAX camera on display at the Montreal Science Center.
(courtesy Wikipedia)


Technology and techniques in the making and distribution of movies have progressed immensely in the last few years. But there is, and could be, much more on the near horizon. This article takes a look at some things that have recently come to, or may be coming to, the movie industry.

First off, lets actually talk about a technology that has been around for decades; IMAX, a Canadian invention from the 1960s. As you may know, IMAX is a filming technology that allows for a wider viewing angle, better image resolution, and a greater feeling of motion when viewed on the huge IMAX screens. The first permanent IMAX installation was built in 1971 in Toronto. Some people who have seen a blockbuster movie in IMAX swear by their experience that IMAX movies are second to none and perhaps IMAX has yet to have it's day. This day may come, however there are a number of points to keep in mind: If it has been around almost 40 years now, how come it has not caught on more. By the end of 2009 there are approximately 325 IMAX theatres in the entire world, many of which are actually situated at educational institutes and are not accessible to the general public. Also, almost half of all IMAX theatres are in the United States. For IMAX to take a greater hold of the market more screens must be built, especially outside the U.S. Finally, to accomodate the large screen the buildings they are in often are much larger than your traditional theatre, which increases costs, and they are almost always single, stand-alone screens (as opposed to multi-plexes), which does not encourage great audience attendance.

Another filming technology that has been around for decades is 3-D. Like IMAX, 3-D has been slow to take hold, and only slightly increased in use over the years. However with recent improvements in technology, like that used in James Cameron's Avatar, 3-D is a much bigger part of movie making.

Now let's look at changes in the actual distribution and promotion of movies. The last few years has shown a growth in a different platform for movie distribution, online. This type of distribution has a number of different business models.

The first of these, and most prevalent at this time, is free online streaming video on demand, or VOD. Most often these sites have advertisments that the user must see during or before viewing the video, to offset costs. Some sites featuring this type of film distribution include Youtube, Hulu, Joost, Babelgum, The Auteurs, and a host of others. At this time, this style of distribution is used most often for movies of a smaller, independent nature.

Another similar model is online video rental. This is basically the same as free online streaming, but paid for by the users, and is usually advertisement free. This style attracts more mainstream, big budget movies, as well as the independents. A related type of distribution method, that also leans more to the hollywood movies, is paid downloads. With this type of distribution, you download the movie directly to your computer and either watch on the little screen or transfer it one way or another to your big screen TV. Some of the key players in this style include Amazon, iTunes, IndiePix and Netflix. Finally, for those people who still like the feeling of a solid disc in their hands that you put into an actual stand-alone player than there are also websites, like Netflix and Zip, who have mail-order services where a monthly fee gets you dvds sent directly to your home. The fees and numbers of dvds you can rent in a month's time vary depending on the plan you choose.

On a newer, and smaller note, these distribution methods are also being used to send movies to your mobile device versus a computer or laptop. Due to the screen size and transfer rate limitations, this style of distribution might be slow to take hold in the market however.

So far we have covered changes in the distribution of movies, but what about changes to other facets of the movie industry. For instance, there also has been an increasing use of social networks to promote newly or soon to be released movies as well as the use of movie blog sites to gauge the reaction to the possibility of a movie being made, to decide whether to "green light" it or not.

For years now, dvds have had interactive content where the owner of the disc can go online to see or download exclusive content. More recently, an increasingly number of studio websites dedicated to theatrical movie releases are also offering exclusive content (beyond the traditional trailers and basic movie information) even while the movie is still in the theatre, and sometimes even before it is released.

As a final note, I would like to relate something heard by this writer at a quaint, local "hole-in-the-wall" restaurant. A couple months back I was at a restaurant and I was seated near two business-men "types" who obviously were in the movie industry in one respect or another. They seemed to be discussing how to move theatrical movie viewing beyond the traditional "sit-and-watch" model. They brought up a number of possibilities, but the one that sticks in my mind the most is how they felt that in this current society it is harder and harder to maintain attention span, partly due to the use of personal electronic devices, and the "get it now" and "get it quick" mentality. So they thought, why not bring the devices into the movie viewing experience by having interactions between the movie and the audience through the use of texting. You could have polls both immediately before and after the movie, or some exclusive type content streamed to the device during the movie, or even more radically, have alternate endings as voted on by the audience.

Many critics of these new technologies and techniques say that they will never succeed, that people still want the experience of a "bricks-and-mortar" theatre where the audience reacts to both the movie on the big screen as well as to their fellow audience members. Some of these aspects of changes to the movie industry discussed here may not take off as well as expected, or who knows, some may just be the next best thing. After all, in the 1990s who heard of texting, or NetFlix, or movies showing on mobile phones, or...

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