Category Archives: Film

Digital Cinema: Distribution and Projection

There is a discussion of digital cinema distribution and projection issues on the Media Student’s Book website, but as things are moving very quickly in the industry we’ll have to keep updating.

Big news today is that Arts Alliance Media (AAM), the company which has so far been instrumental in equipping digital cinema screens in the UK as part of the UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network, has got a big new contract with Hoyts in Australia and New Zealand. AAM announced a major deal earlier this month with Spanish cinema chain Yelmo to equip 370 screens in 31 cinemas – all capable of 3D. That was AAM’s seventh ‘territory deal’ in Europe. The others are in France, Italy, Holland, Denmark and Norway as well as in the UK where two chains, Cineworld and Reel Cinemas are both going completely digital.

The Australian deal is different in that it takes AAM into the whole of Hoyts’ 400 cinema circuit via its ‘TMS‘ or Theatre Management System software rather than through its equipment supply. The TMS allows a whole cinema digital projection system to be controlled from a central location. Although AAM is based in Europe, this deal shows that its software is a global commodity and it has also negotiated licences to take it into Japan.

Part of AAM’s expansion also includes negotiation of VPFs – the ‘Virtual Print Fees’ agreed with major studios. The VPF is the key to the economics of the rollout of digital cinema. Digital distribution and exhibition should cut costs for everyone, but the initial equipment cost for cinemas of installing projectors is so great that without some kind of deal many wouldn’t contemplate change. Companies like AAM are integrators that specialise in supplying equipment to cinemas which effectively lease the kit for a period of up to ten years, at the end of which they own it. AAM carry the costs of equipment ‘up front’ and negotiate bulk buying from suppliers. They also guarantee the distributors that it will be worthwhile to make digital prints because the screens will be functioning. They exhibitors pay a monthly maintenance fee to AAM to look after the kit, but the majority of the cost of conversion is met by the distributor which pays a fee to AAM each time their ‘print’ is ‘released’ to a cinema complex. In a sense, this fee replaces the much higher cost of making a physical film print and transporting it from one venue to another.

You can learn more about TMS and VPF from Arts Alliance Media on these pages.

There is a useful introductory summary of some of the costs and technologies involved in digital cinema on Wikipedia. (But note that in this very fast moving market sector, Wikipedia, like everyone else, struggles to keep up-to-date.)

Africa’s World Cup

So, it’s all over and the analysis begins. The football was generally disappointing but at least South Africa staged the whole event efficiently – even if many locals couldn’t afford to attend the games. There was a fair amount of coverage of the reaction across Africa, especially the way in which Africans from different countries got behind Ghana when they became the only African team to qualify.

There were several stories about the media coverage that media students might want to pursue. One that might run for a while concerned the BBC’s decision to build its own dedicated media centre in Cape Town even though many the logistics hub of the event was in Johannesburg a thousand miles away. When this was announced the Daily Mail used it as a stick to beat the BBC for ‘wasteful spending’ (the Mail’s attacks on the BBC are fuelled by an ideology which attacks any form of public spending and also by competitive instincts). Now that the competition is over, the media centre will be dismantled and ‘flat-packed’ for future use. The whole venture will also have acted as a dry run for the coverage of the Olympics in 2012. By then, the BBC should have moved its sports broadcasting centre to Salford – 200 miles from the focus of the games in East London.

But the main story about the BBC (and ITV) for me is their failure to properly present African issues to a popular audience. The main thrust of the UK TV coverage of Africa outside the stadiums has been driven by celebrity-centred formats. Many of these are worthy in a Blue Peter way (Blue Peter is a children’s TV programme loved and loathed in the UK). When one game ended ‘early’ (without extra time or penalties) BBC coverage offered us a report on pundit Clarence Seedorf’s visit to Robben Island where political prisoners used football as a unifying activity in their struggle to prepare for the overthrow of the apartheid regime. This was fine as an idea but what does a Dutch footballer bring to the report that a South African couldn’t? Other BBC programming offered us a reality TV series in which an Englishwoman becomes a ‘tribal wife’ and a series in which celebrity journalist/presenter Jonathan Dimbleby toured Africa. Here are clips (the Tribal Wives clip is from an earlier series):

I haven’t seen these series and I’m sure that they are highly professional and informative. Dimbleby is an experienced journalist with deep knowledge of African affairs. But my point is that:

  • this kind of programming is patronising in suggesting that UK audiences won’t watch anything without a British guide to what they are watching and,
  • there are many highly talented but underemployed African filmmakers who could be commissioned with proper budgets to make African films about Africa. Mali, where Dimbleby investigates the growth of the capital city Bamako has produced several world-class film directors such as Souleymane Cissé and Abderrahmane Sissako. Why not get one of them to make a documentary/fiction feature? (To be fair to the BBC they have featured Sissako on the World Service – listen here to his explanation of the decline of cinemas in Africa.)

During the World Cup a radio sketch put all of this into context when it depicted a scene in a bar in Soweto in which radio reporters from the UK attempt to interview locals about the football – only to discover that all the other customers are reporters from other European or American media outlets. There is a sense that all we saw of Africa during this World Cup was heavily mediated through the perspective of outside agencies.

On our sister blog, The Case for Global Film, there are several entries about African films, filmmakers and cinema infrastructure which attempt to redress the absence of African voices. Explore them through the African Cinema category.

Killing the game?

Whatever your views on how we got into recession, most of us would agree that a shrinking economy is not a good thing (even if initially it means less energy consumption). The UK is now plagued by austerity policies which may end up making the situation worse, not better.

Some media industries – those that don’t rely directly on selling advertising space – have thrived during previous recessions. Cinema, especially in the 1930s, grew rapidly in the US and UK. A recent report announced that a season ticket to watch Premiership football was the last thing that fans would give up if their income fell.

But, outside Hollywood, cinema has often needed forms of government support. In Europe, film industries are heavily dependent on ‘soft money’ – tax concessions, loans and grants. In return for public spending, governments expect to see both cultural and economic benefits from healthy media industries. The economic benefits of soft funding are well set out in a report that can be downloaded free from the UK Film Council.

What this report demonstrates is that public funding support for media industries is not a luxury but a necessity. Without it, a major industry may falter with jobs being lost. Reducing the spend by 25% as current austerity plans dictate is likely to have a negative multiplier effect – i.e. losing more than 25% in revenues and future benefits for the economy.

Videogames

Many commentators argue that the video games industry internationally is now challenging the film industry in terms of economic value. (See Chapter 7 in MSB5.) The US and Japan are the major international players in this industry, but the UK and France have jostled for third place for some time. Now, because of lack of public funding support, UK games companies and individual games designers are leaving the UK and moving to where support is available. Multinational games companies are closing operations in the UK and moving them to South Korea, Australia and, especially, Canada where such support is more easily available. In this context it isn’t surprising that what is left of the UK games industry was shocked by the recent budget decision to withdraw the planned scheme for tax relief announced by the previous Labour government. The story and its background are covered in detail in Guardian reports. When Labour’s plans were announced in March, this was the reaction from the industry:

. . . Richard Wilson, the chief executive of the trade association Tiga, which is only 10 years old, says the decision “will more than pay for itself. We predict over the next five years tax relief should result in the creation of 3,500 graduate level jobs, another £457m of investment into the sector, and £415m in tax receipts for the Treasury.” (Guardian 29/3/2010)

Now that the decision is reversed, there must be a few thousand would-be graduate games designers thinking about how they can move to Canada or South Korea.

World Cup 2010

Every two years a major global sporting event throws up a series of media issues and debates. The World Cup kicks off in a few weeks and the next Summer Olympics arrives in London in 2012.

Now seems a good time to prepare for the media stories of South Africa 2010. Some of these are predictable. For instance, the international film industry is all too aware of the impact of televised football on cinema attendances during major televised football competitions – especially in Europe. One of the ways of attracting audiences is with counter-programming of films deemed more attractive to women who might be looking for an escape from football. The World Cup starts on June 11. Sex and the City 2 – the major Summer blockbuster targeting women – was released in North America and worldwide on 28 May. Was this too early? Or does the studio hope to have created such a buzz by June 11 that groups of women will be returning for repeat screenings?

Not sure why this poster gives the date June 10 – unless the release date was changed at the last moment – but the creative idea behind the ad seems pretty straightforward. . . .

. . . and of course, advertising is what the World Cup is really about – the exploitation of the brands of famous footballers alongside global brands. There is too much of it to go into in detail here, so perhaps we should first collect together some of the campaigns first and then pick out some of the issues. I’m willing to bet that one will be the woeful misrepresentation of Africa and South Africa in particular. The most high-profile campaign usually comes from Nike and this year’s features Christian Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney as star attractions:

I’m not sure how to describe this clip – a meta advertisement? Mexican film director Alejandro González Iñárittu discusses his ‘Write the Future’ ad which features Didier Drogba and Roger Federer as well as Homer Simpson – so it isn’t really about South Africa 2010 at all. For that we have to turn to Puma. The German company sponsors four African National Teams in the World Cup Finals (Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast) and so it’s not surprising it celebrates African football. It’s great to see a representation of African footballers playing in Africa. Enjoy!

Metrodome Reduces Theatrical Distribution

UK Independent Film Distributor Metrodome (see Movies and Music Case Study in MSB5) has announced a significant change of policy and reduction in theatrical distribution plans. In 2008 and 2009, Metrodome released twelve films per year, including some notable European and British releases such as Shifty. Due out in the next few weeks are Israeli Oscar nominee from 2009, Lebanon and Italian arthouse film I Am Love with Tilda Swinton.