Apr 2, 2010

The Digital Divide in Hollywood

In my previous articles I mentioned new commercial success of film and television online streaming and 3-D televisions, but is the commercial hype of these new digital medias beneficial to society? If you look at in terms of a mass distribution of content to a wide variety of people, the streaming of film and television content are beneficial. The cost of producing 3D is much more costly and limited to those who can afford to buy an IMAX theatre ticket and/or 3D TV along with 3D viewing glasses. Looking at forms of distribution mediums in the film and television industry, there is no doubt a divide to which audience the content reaches.

Herve Fischer writer of The Decline of the Hollywood Empire, goes into great detail about the corruption of power in the studio system creating not only an outside divide, but an inside one as well. If you look at how long this system has been in place and proven successful financially, its no wonder they don't change it. Society is starting to realize this divide and is finding content outside the system through the Internet or other sources. What studios are losing by this is their "source" of power.

The Hollywood system would be what economics refer to as a perfect monopoly, where the seven major studios are the monopoly firms. The seven are made up of, Walt Disney/Buena Vista, Sony Columbia Tristar, Paramount Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal Studios,Warner Bros., and MGM. And these studios are also owned by larger conglomerates. Television has a similar system, only with broadcasting networks.

The process of distribution is also limited both with its potential for more profit and steps of processing. New digital medias such as computers could quicken the process and create smaller expense. Profits are divided up as the theatre owners giving distributors the share of obtaining sixty percent of the revenue from the first week , fifty percent the second week, and forty percent until the end of showing. You can see how blockbuster films, where the profit is generated within the first week is a more desirable content to produce for maximum profit.

This leads to film studios and television networks not only to have a system for distribution, but content creation as well. This system deters genuine talent from producing content in commercial filmmaking. Fischer describes the system as, " formulatic, in which  the scripts, casting, and the sets are based on short-sighted market analysis rather than on the vision of filmmakers...to hopefully guarantee profits, inevitably imposing formulas that producers and directors, prisoners of the Hollywood system, must follow" (Fischer, 19). In comparison to how many films America produces to other countries the percentage is low, but the amount of gains from tickets receipts is almost one hundred percent more.

So how are independent producers able to get their content to the general public when there is such a tight hold on the type of content that is decided to be commercially distributed? Many theatres are cutting around the system by the use of digital mediums outside of the millemeter film. Fischer mentions a cinema in Quebec, which uses DigiScreen technology and DVD to screen films. This allows for him to screen independent films cheaply, without having to pay the distributors. Governors in Quebec issued the Cinema Cartier a permanent film festival status to show films without proper visa.

With studios so engrained into a certain system, it makes it almost impossible for any independents to make it in. Believe it or not independent studios are only slightly easier system to enter because they too rely on the larger distribution studios and networks to produce content. Fischer clearly describes the systematic relationship of indies and big studios. " The illusion of their independence has made it  possible for specialists in the field to believe there is a true separation between the majors and the independents. But its all a smoke screen. In reality, the indies are completely dependent on distribution networks, or on films that depend on distribution networks. They offer the big 7 the advantage of occupying every niche and eliminating competition from outside of the cartel. The indies remain within the sphere of influence of the big seven and even act as a pool of talent and expertise that the majors can draw from" (Fischer, 31).

Independent producers are fed up with the smoke screen and are looking for more control in the distribution of their content through the Internet. The most popular genre to use digital distribution is documentary. Documentary is mainly a genre used to supply information to the public through the moving image. Documentary titan, Michael Moore has done that with his documentary, Slacker Uprising. Whats more interesting is that the film is offered to download for free, if you're a citizen of the U.S. or Canada. It makes sense for Michael Moore to give his audience a chance to freely view his documentary when he advocates extremely liberal policies. It spreads his ideas and information through film to his target audience of North Americans.

Although independent producers were the first to truly utilize the potential of online distribution, the big studios are now not only realizing this fact, but feeling it as well. Atom.com is a site that produces comedy content on the Internet. The formula is much different than you tube though. You tube is for amateurs, but Atom TV is made from amateur's with professional potential. The developers find genuine talent to produce content on the website and pay them for their material produced. The site is more of a means of quality digital distribution for any talented individual. Some of the content is also shown on Comedy Central during a special time slot. Their motto is that they're a 'convergent entertainment network.' Big studios could benefit from the general public to create content by using similar distribution systems that Michael Moore and Atom TV have adopted. There must be a convergence of the Internet and film or the system will die out.


(1) Allen J. Scott.(2005).On Hollywood:The Place, The Industry. Princeton: Princeton Press.
(2) Fischer, H. (2004). The Decline of the Hollywood Empire.Vancouver: TalenBooks.

(3) http://www.atom.com/about/
(4) http://slackeruprising.com/
(5) Bush, V. (2010). As We May Think. Retrieved March 31,2010, from http://www.theatlantic.com  /magazine/archive/1969/12/as-we-may-think/3881/.

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