VIII Euromediterranean Conference on Cinema

organised by the European Parliament and the Italian Committee of CICT - UNESCO (International Council for Film, Television, and Audiovisual Communication)
6th September  2002
on the occasion of 59. Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica in Venice

Cinema in the Digital Era:
which technologies for which cultures?


 The digital scenario

by Jens Rykaer – President of MEDIA Salles

Basically this an area that still calls for more questions than answers.

Digitalisation will give film an even greater potential through the electronic media. What happens with film and television, when television becomes Internet and film will become video-on-demand? All areas which we today regulate in different ways, because they have different functions, will converge.

Today we all know that films should be seen in a proper cinema, but that they are also seen on tv and may be broadcasted on demand via cable or satellite. Films also may be broadcasted by others apart from tv-stations. The development of the broadband is in full swing and streaming video compression-technology makes it possible to watch films via the internet already. In this situation the content becomes more important than the technology. It can be said that the digitalisation and the convergence of the media open new perspectives for the film’s chain of value. From the artistic creation, via the actual production, promotion to distribution and consumption.

In a society of networks both the artist and the consumer/the audience will be part of different networks, where communication and exchange of knowledge will happen quickly and easily. The society of networks will at the same time result in known technologies, services and markets within communication, IT- and the media converging. This convergence is characterised by the following aspects:

Same content on more platforms – when tv is shown on the internet, e-mails can be received via digital TV, and books, newspapers and music are published  physically and on the net. Or when fiction/entertainment are built  up as collective concepts, where the same characters perform in films, on TV, computer games, books etc. and are followed up by interactive sites on the net.

Personalisation or creation of niches – when the consumer by choosing subjects and running-order is able to individually tailor the services and decide what is to be received and when to receive it.

Interactivity – when the consumer can influence and in some cases add to the content.

Multifunctional terminals – for instance when you can talk, send electronic messages and get information from the net via a cell phone.

Blurring of borders – when there is no longer a clear division between for instance traditional broadcasts, Web-TV and other services that contain moving images. Also it will be increasingly difficult to decide who is the sender of a given content – the content could be a contribution from an other ”receiver”.

What kind of significance will the digitalisation and the convergence of media have for the film as artistic expression – and as business? These questions can be dealt with by looking at the chain of values of the film:

The chain of value is the following: The creation of content – production – promotion – gatekeeping  – consumption

The creation of content: The brainstorming phase, the artistic creation of  new original content. The drama and the visual atmosphere from the writer and director. Here it is interesting to look at what digital technology, the anarchy of the internet, interactivity can contribute to the film as a medium of art.

Production: Films are produced through a huge and complicated process with a lot of participation by creative and technical forces. It is often put forward that the digitalisation has made this process easier and cheaper – and for better or for worse – will lead to a democratisation of the film-medium.

Promotion: Promotion is the function in the chain that packages the film for its target group or community. With an increasing number of windows and distribution-channels, how the film is promoted will become a vital decision. Is it for cinemas or video/DVD, or for the net as happened in the US with ”Blair Witch Project” ? Should it be accompanied by games, homepages or other interlocking and converging products?

Gatekeeping: Is the spot in the chain that controls the relation between the owner of the content and the consumer. That is the producer and the audience. In the area of film the gatekeeper is traditionally the cinema or the distributor. It can also be the TV-station or the video-store. Digitalisation, and with it convergence, creates new possibilities through pay per view and video on demand – and new problems among others in relation to digital copying from the net. Not a major problem so far with films, but with new compression-techniques and standards it will become a problem as with the MP 3-problem with music.

Consumption:  Films can be consumed in many ways. As an audience in a cinema, as video/DVD, pay per view, video on demand, through broadband or as ordinary TV-viewing, or as an internet-consumer or different hybrid forms in between. The pattern of consumption will be dominated rather by divergence than convergence, as the consumer will be able to watch films in many more ways than before. Through terminals such as pc’s, settopboxes for digital TV and new forms of video-projectors and multimedia-boxes. The society of networks has exactly this significance, that still more content – including the artistic – is launched through the internet and is received where, when and through whatever ”machine” the consumer prefers.

The creation

The first two links in the chain of value – content and production – are about the artistic creation. The following questions are relevant:

* Can interactivity be used creatively?
* The use of the internet for the collection of ideas – does it work?
* New forms of expression with elements from games and music videos?
* The interactive story – what is it?
* The future interactive TV?
* Cheaper production – democratisation of the film medium? When everybody can handle a digital camera and productions can be made cheaply, doing the editing on your personal computer. Will the standard of quality fall, because of the anarchy of the internet, into some kind of “home video-standard” because it is so easy to publish on the net?

Promotion and marketing

Already today promoting and marketing have a huge importance for films and are integrated in state-subsidies in many countries. Digitalisation will introduce new tools within this area.

Will interactivity lead to the disappearance of the concept of an “audience”? Traditionally the audience is a passive element, a viewer just ”watches” a film. The interactive development within the net and multimedia can lead to another role as a team player, and a film can be attached to, for instance, a game, chat rooms, inter-quizzes and competitions and e-business, where for instance there is a possibility to buy the hero’s t-shirt. New opportunities for income and new perspectives for marketing and promotion.

Films will have to adapt the ongoing tendencies towards individualisation and segmentation of media consumption in relation to age and lifestyle. The possibilities of choice for the individual will grow and there will be the possibility of approaching ”the source directly”, that is the producer, who will be closer to the final consumer surrounding the usual channels of distribution. Together with the internet, SMS and other mobile-services, films will enter changing combinations centred around communities, meaning communities based on interests, that can be narrow or broad, permanent or short-lived or trendy. Everybody has their own universe with living images on demand and different communication services.

Distribution and consumption

* Digital cinemas

The digitalisation of the cinemas is at present at a stage of development. Because of lack of a standard for digital projection everybody is on hold. The technique is there – but a lot of questions are still not accounted for.

Cultural political questions:

What will happen in relation to the concentration of the business and in relation to the diversity of films on the market?
Will the e-cinema give better opportunities for the small independent films – domestically and abroad?
Will it increase the curtain bombing of blockbusters?

Economical questions?

Who’s to pay for the transition? (about 100,000 dollars per screen)

The business in relation to exhibitors

Possible benefits:

No more handling of heavy celluloid copies
Possible remote control of the film on the screen
Possibly fewer operators in the booth
No transport of films
Better flexibility in programming (choice of language, trailers and commercials)
New events on the screen: live sport, concerts, interactive video-conferences
A more stable picture on the screen (no breaks, scratches)
Maybe access to broader range of films
More income from commercials, as the cinema will be more competitive

The clients/The audience

Possible advantages:

Increase of image quality (scratches, breaks)
Increased offer of films/flexibility (several language versions the same day)
Possible access to other events

Possible disadvantages:

Concentration of distributors
Flatter image
The symbolic loss of the 35mm celluloid (more psychological)


Possible advantages:

No copies of films and trailers meaning no stock, no transportation, no destruction (huge economic benefits)
Will concentrate on the central areas  (marketing and business with exhibitors)
Marketing tool: interactive press video conferences combined with pre-screenings
Possible access to more films (repertoire and classics)
Less laboratory costs with a 100% digitalisation

For the distributor nothing but advantages

The industry as a whole:

Neutral or a little better for the audience
Neutral or better for exhibition
Far better and much more effective for the distributor