What is a… Cinema?

I was presenting at an event a few weeks back alongside someone whose business is focused on advising people about media intellectual property rights, particularly in the film sector. She gave an interesting analysis that the traditional Hollywood model of “release windows”. It used to be the case that the sheer cost of duplication of films on celluloid was such that films would be released in territories sequentially because that meant the reels could be reused effectively.

By the 1980s, with the advent of the VCR, Hollywood had worked out quite a sophisticated windowing model where cinematic release would be followed by rental release would be followed by satellite movie channel release and then eventually terrestrial TV. The delays were geared to be able to maximise revenue opportunities at each stage, and piracy, whilst not uncommon, was of poor quality because of the means of transmission. Looking back, quite how anyone put up with VHS is beyond me.

These days initial cinematic release is followed by  DVD/BluRay release, premium pay-per-view, pay-per-view, subscription TV and finally terrestrial TV. But with digital duplication and distribution, every single delay becomes effectively a “piracy window”. It seems that the opportunity for complete, end-to-end distribution of films digitally (ie over the network rather than in physical form) gives an opportunity for clamping down on illegal distribution of copyrighted content.

But with shorter and shorter exclusivity windows for cinemas, and increasingly immersive technology for watching content in the home, this will leave the Cinema with an identity problem – why pay to go to watch a film there when in only a few weeks or months you can watch it from the comfort of your own home?

In a similar way to retail, cinema increasingly is becoming an experience rather than merely a place to watch films. Luxury seats, and hopefully more luxury catering start to come to the fore.

Of course the history of cinemas has already seen significant disruption and repositioning. Whilst for a while (between the invention of the Talkie and the invention of TV) it probably was the mass media, as the small screen took over cinema dropped first newsreel and then b-movies. That change saw decline, the closing of many once grand cinemas (often to bingo halls it seems, whose days themselves in the age of Internet gambling must be numbered) and then a re-emergence in the 80s and 90s with the advent of the multiplex.

Underneath all of this, there are also occasional technological advances that help the cinematic experience; 3D being the latest. Interestingly, though, the form of “the movie” – around 100 minutes of a single story – seems to have remained fairly consistent throughout all of these changes. Maybe that’s where we’ll also start to see more change as distribution models and costs change with digital?

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