The Digital Storm

28 12 2007

Mike Flynn, over at B-Scene Films blog, echoes something I said earlier today about the demise of the traditional distribution model, in a post called “The Digital Storm: An Editorial” (I can’t find the pingback URL, so you’ll have to hunt for it).  Talking about the low cost of entry to production, he asks what a studio might be good for in today’s world.  His argument goes:

So, if we reduce the cost of creating blockbuster entertainment to the point that it no longer requires the financial wherewithal of a major studio to produce it, what then are the studios bringing to the table in order to remain viable in the future?

Financing
Production resources (stages, backlots, post, studio facilities etc).
Expertise in production
Distribution

He quickly dismisses the first three as viable jobs for studios (personally, I think that with the audience still flocking to big VFX and big star vehicles, someone has to finance those exorbitant costs — studios are a handy middleman to the banks in this case). In regards to distribution, he starts to knock it down by, first, talking about digital distribution lowering the costs.  He then talks about home theatre systems — concluding that they pose a real threat to the studios’ stranglehold.

In other words — they’re sunk.  The studios cannot survive.

What I, as a consumer, wants: I would like to have digital delivery of HD content directly to my living room. I want the model to be a subscription model. A flat fee for a specific number of monthly downloads. Much the same way that we have with services like Netflix. I do not want to have to ever buy and store media like DVDs. I just want to be able to watch what I want, when I want.

For those of you who’ve read my earlier comments on Distribution (click on the dropdown to the right to see them) it will come as no surprise that I agree with Mike on most of this.  Where I cynically disagree is in one big thing — I have complete faith in the ability of the big companies to buy out other distribution methods.  THe distribution models of 2010 won’t include television stations as we know them, and may not include large movie theatres in the way we’re used to — but you can bet that no matter what they look like, they all will be owned by some variation of the major companies that we see today.  NBC may have, by then, merged with Google.  Warner Bros may have bought out Netflix.  But you can bet that it will be the same twenty white guys, in their same corporate offices, who will try and determine what we see.

That’s why the Net Neutrality forces need to prevail. Our only hope is to push the bottom of the envelope (hmmm, I don’t know if that image really works).  Niche distribution, not mass distribution, is where indie forces can congregate.  My hope is that it will be cheap and easy enough to find a market that sustains the relatively small number of people who will be making media in this world.

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