The future for film has already been written

By Liz Rosenthal, originally published 20 August, 2009 in ScreenDaily.

Much of the discussion around digital change for film gives the impression we are caught in a hurricane, whipped up by the impossible pace of innovation. And yet a striking feature of the current climate is how many of the fundamentals of production and distribution have settled into clear patterns.

Low-cost tools to make films and send them out into the world are available so widely that the term ‘commoditisation’ has already become a cliché.

When we talk about ‘new media’, we are referring to technologies that have been around for more than a decade. That’s why it is pointless to talk about whether online film will ever take off – the future has already been written.

The task now is how we can reach and build audiences and use that unprecedented potential for exposure to create and extend the value of content. The key to a digital future resides in the relationship with audiences.

In a congested marketplace where competition for audiences is fragmented over multiple new platforms, games, online activities, TV and real life, the film industry must find new avenues to make films available easily and to engage with future audiences in more meaningful ways.

This changed dynamic is challenging. Every area of the media, from newspapers to music, learned the hard way that their businesses had changed fundamentally. That change may have been enabled by technology but it was unequivocally the result of customer behaviour.

Power to the Pixel’s starting position is that there is no point fighting the inevitable, and we need to grasp the opportunities. Through digital innovation, a vastly increased number of people now have the power to create, distribute and engage with film.

The rapid growth of social media has created a new audience which is no longer made up of passive viewers of media – they are active creators, collaborators, distributors and even financiers.

As audiences access stories through different media platforms and devices, we’re beginning to see new possibilities for storytelling as films are no longer bound to 90-minute formats. Film as we know it is beginning to transform.

Alongside the huge success of innovative interactive Studio campaigns for The Matrix, The Dark Knight and Watchmen, we are beginning to see a new generation of independent film-makers and producers use multiple platforms to tell their stories, engage with millions and build new types of businesses.

In 2003, director Peter Greenaway prophesied: “If the cinema intends to survive, it has to make a pact and a relationship with concepts of interactivity and it has to see itself as only part of a multimedia cultural adventure.” Many of today’s frustrations in the industry come from an understandable, but essentially futile, attempt to make digital change just an extension of the current business.

Power to the Pixel has a different starting point. Because it sees a future based around audiences and the value derived from engaging with them, it can take a practical point of view: it brings together the very best ideas from those who are making real advances in business and content creation. And in its conference, workshops and the groundbreaking Pixel Pitch section, it looks to turn digital into today’s business.

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