Movies streaming has changed the world of theatrical distribution, no doubt. Above all it changed the visibility of independent films. What was unthinkable only until a couple of decades ago, due to the technical difficulties of transmission with a too large amount of data, has become the main worldwide distribution channel thanks to realities such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, while cinemas have seen and continue to see a drastic drop in audiences.
Choose a movie to watch
Streaming and the movie theater
Yes, it is true, as big screen lovers say, that a film in the cinema is a very different thing, but obviously we are in an era in which the populations of large urban centers, where the web infrastructures are good. , they are getting used more and more to the comforts at home, and they have less and less desire to go out for traffic, overcrowding, fear of terrorism, the virus, and who knows what other things. The positive side, however, is that theatrical distribution has never been democratic while movies streaming and online distribution certainly are.
While large distributors and exhibitors decide which products to launch in cinemas, even for auteur films under the influence of large festivals, sector institutions and cultural lobbies, interested exclusively in profit or prestige, in the streaming film, which has an over the top infrastructure with very low costs, it is only the audience that decides to watch it that determines success.
The incredible has become reality: a director could produce a low-cost film on his own and upload it to a streaming platform to make it available for rent and sale, and have tens of thousands or millions of viewers. But unfortunately this is not the case.
Is streaming movies an opportunity for independent filmmakers?
Independent filmmakers have begun to dream of democratic distribution with streaming no longer controlled by large distributions and complex traditional marketing mechanisms. Over the last five years, some channels have cut entry costs to upload their films and in some cases have created preferential lanes for individual directors by breaking away from the system of working only with distributors.
Never before has the number of films made been so high: Thanks to new technologies, more than 5000 feature films are produced worldwide every year: in such a market it becomes extremely difficult to have visibility. There is so much content and so many directors that it is difficult to choose something to see.
Almost everyone ends up preferring films widely known and advertised by big studios and big festivals, because the real obstacle to this change is the global domination of mass culture, supported by the most expensive advertising media, accessible only to the few who have the necessary budgets.
Paradoxically, only the United States, where mainstream culture finds its apex, is there much room for an alternative film culture and for a true critical choice of the viewer, while Europe continues to float in the stagnant waters of the official tradition, recalcitrant to the change, between golden palms and lions that no longer make much news and are quickly forgotten.
The reality of streaming movie distribution
The big corporations have exploited the proliferation of content to their advantage: the earnings once guaranteed by the cinema and from the Home Video distribution have progressively decreased until reaching the absurd figures offered by Amazon Prime, for example, which in the United States it pays filmmakers four to eight cents for every hour viewed.
This means that a producer must have hundreds of viewers to have earnings comparable to selling a single DVD, and if he wants to have decent revenues he must reach tens or hundreds of thousands of people.
In such a scenario it is once again the big, super hyped films that have the upper hand. But the interesting thing is that large global platforms are not the only alternative for contemporary streaming viewers: the scenario is evolving with a fragmentation into small niche channels specializing in diversified sectors such as documentary, indie films, horror, or art cinema, with the result that the market is richer than ever and everyone can choose what they like best.
The absolute domination of the American streaming giants is determined by consumers’ distrust of everything new and their desire to navigate to the safe havens of mass culture, the famous and widely studied “sheep effect” . That’s why platforms dedicated to arthouse and indie cinema struggle to find visibility.
Is streaming movie distribution changing?
Fortunately, things are changing and many people are starting to see these niche channels as a great enrichment opportunity. Movies streaming has forever revolutionized theatrical distribution by offering directors the potential to get anywhere through the network, and the public the ability to choose from a large amount of content without being conditioned by the advertising of the big studios. Mainstream culture is slowly giving way to wider and freer horizons also in the cinematographic field. But the process is slow and it benefits only a small audience for now. Let’s hope it gets really big.