The Digital Audience

A filmmaker’s relationship with an audience has become more important than ever in recent years. Enabled by digital technologies filmmakers are being given the opportunity to connect with an audience for their film from day one and continue that relationship until the release of the film. Never before have independents with limited budgets been given such autonomy and license to control the distribution and marketing of their film.

Analysing it a little further, I’m going to briefly summarise three fundamental ideas that stem from digital technologies and their relationship to audience: interaction – international – innovation.

Interaction

Interaction involves filmmakers communicating directly with their audience through social networks. There are countless platforms, and each has their own benefits depending on the narrative you want to have with audience. Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are the most influential platforms used, but interesting techniques are being explored through niche services such as Vine, Pinterest and Vidy. A key point that filmmakers seem to be ignoring with social media, is that its never too early to start, and keep the conversation going during the entire process.

International

Filmmakers can now engage with their audience regardless of national borders. For decades the film industry was contained through a territorial structure that benefitted Studios much more than the independents. Now filmmakers are limited only by broadband penetration. The old models of distribution are being broken down and replacing them are financially viable distribution models available through services such as iTunes, Netflix and Lovefilm. As a caveat however, as these video-on-demand (VOD) platforms grow larger, they become increasingly difficult to access and become more interesting in taking Studio content or creating content of their own. Alternative VOD platforms do exist, and I would identify Distrify as one of the most exiting propositions.

Innovation

Innovation, may be less explicit than the other two factors, but I needed to find something that began with ‘i’ so I’m shoehorning it in. Nevertheless, it is in fact as relevant. Digital technologies offer the opportunity to break from the norm and be experimental in the creation and release of a film. In distribution, we’re seeing interesting experiments with release windows. While traditionally a film is shown in the cinema, then released a number of months later on DVD, then VOD and finally TV, now distributors are experimenting with the timeframes and order of this sequence. Its been happening for years in the US with Magnolia, IFC, (and more recently) RADiUs-TWC, but it’s a rather new approach in the UK. However, the multiplatform, day-and-date release of Ben Wheatley’s ‘A Field In England’ has shaken up the UK industry and opened producers eyes to new possibilities. Additionally, support from the British Film Institute (BFI) and changing perspectives from cinema chains such Picturehouse and Curzon are breaking down traditional barriers and bringing the UK film industry up to date.

Technology is shaking up the way audience hear about and consume film. In an industry that is more competitive that ever, filmmakers need to correlate their marketing and distribution efforts to these audience consumption patterns. This involves capitalising on the opportunities available through social media, VOD and experimentation with release windows.

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