All entries for Sunday 10 December 2006
December 10, 2006
The development of the multiplex cinema has changed the face of film exhibition. Simultaneously multiplexes have contributed to the denuding of town centres of traditional entertainments, whilst contributing to the growth of cinema audiences. Prior to the development of the multiplex cinema audiences in Britain were at an all time low.
There is a seeming paradox that multiplexes offer more screens and fewer films. Below this phenomenon is explored in relation to the increasing domination of the global film industry by Hollywood. The problem of distribution and exhibition of British and /or other cinemas is also considered.
The First Multiplex
The first multiplex was built in a shopping mall in Kansas City in 1966. This happened at a time when the American film industry was suffering from the break-up of the big Hollywood vertically integrated companies. There were several reasons for this. Anti-monopoly legislation was introduced. This came at a time when TV had begun to steal audiences. Furthermore there was greater disposable income going into other leisure industries which were competing for the cinema audiences. By the 1980s the multiplex model dominated the American exhibition system and the time was ripe to open up new markets.
The Multiplex in Britain
The first British multiplex opened in Milton Keynes in 1985. It had ten screens seating over 2,000 people. It also had a restaurant, brasserie and social club. It was positioned to have a cachment area of approximately 1.5 million people within 45 minutes drive. This kind of metrics is important to decide where to site multiplexes.
There were 2 or more showings of individual films each evening and there would always be at least one U Rated film which helped to make the venue attractive for families. It was now possible for Adults to watch one film and children another.
The auditoriums were now designed with far better standards of comfort for the seating which is spacious and very relaxing. The screen can easily be seen from all the seats. Combined with the best screening technologies available the cinema could now offer a wide range of people a far better quality viewing experience.
The cramped, knackered seats, bad sight-lines, poor sound and small screens with poor facilities especially parking consigned the local independent cinema to history in most major cities over a ten year period.
Much of the multiplex boom was linked in with the massive growth of the consumption led lifestyle economy usually concentrated upon out-of town shopping centres. These usually had free parking and often good rail connections.
The British Multiplex in the 1990s
The construction of larger multiplexes of over 8 screens was premised upon a catchment area of about half a million people living within a 20-25 minute drive away. Since 1991 there has been the development of the smaller multiplex 5-6 screens in smaller towns and cities such as Leamington-Spa, Lincoln and Kettering.
During the 1990s five companies dominated the multiplex market controlling about 88% of the screens. These are: Rank Odeon , National amusements / Showcase, UCI, Virgin, Warner Village. There is now a return to ‘brownfield’ sites with ‘megaplexes’ being constructed. There is a 31 screen megaplex being built on the Battersea power station site, and a 21 screen venue has been built in Bradford. The Star site in Birmingham has 30 screens and is part of a large shopping and restaurant complex. Technically in the inner city it has good proximity to the motorway and nearly 3,000 car parking spaces are available.
The multiplex can be seen as part of the ‘MacDonaldisation’ of society by providing a homogenised entertainments service. The buildings, unlike the Odeons of the 1930s, are frequently system-build and standardised. Carbuncles on the face of the British built environment, pure money generating machines. The labour systems are increasingly de-skilled as fewer, less skilled, projectionists can operate the largely computer based projection systems. The buildings are designed to create a through-flow of people so seats in the foyers are rarely provided. Membership of Trade Unions is discouraged for the workforce. (Hanson, 2000).
Less Choice Not More
David Lister has summed up the position in Britain with a strong degree of scepticism as he comments below:
Another Cannes staple is the lack of British films, an omission usually more than compensated for by a performance of a British government minister. The sun, sea and crowds tend to give our visiting ministers a sense of euphoria or perhaps just heatstroke. Labour’s Chris Smith once announced that he intended all British multiplexes always to show at least one British film. Guess what, it never happened.
The expansion of screen numbers has paradoxically seen fewer films being screened. Instead blockbusters are often being screened on several of the screens each night: ‘A small proportion of major Hollywood studio films receiveore a disproportionate amount of resources in terms of marketing and screen time.’ ( Hanson, 2000 : 55 ). Multiplexes often hold over successful films for extra weeks to maximise their profitability. As a result independent films rarely get a look in despite the promises that were made at the time the first multiplex opened in Britain that one independent film would always be available.
During 1997 of the 284 films exhibited in the UK 153 were American and 21 were US/UK joint productions. The distribution of most of the Hollywood films went through 5 major distributors: UIP, Buena Vista, Twentieth Century Fox, Columbia and Warner Brothers.
The rest of the distribution sector is comprised of small independent companies promoting most of the British, other European, and other overseas films. These films are finding it much harder to get screen time despite the fact that there are more screens.
Independent cinemas have been unable to compete with the multiplexes even when trying to show mainstream products. This is because unacceptable conditions are placed on the exhibitors, such as taking a certain number of products from a distributor. In any exhibitors have managed to make good profits and this section of British cinema continues to be successful. This is at the expense of British and other non-Hollywood coming to screens.
Here’s how it works. The lower the risk of the film not attracting big audiences the greater the per-centage cut of the takings the distributor takes. this automatically makes small budget films a big risk for exhibitors because the marketing budgets are so small. Remember hollywood blockbusters sometimes spend 50% – Yes, that is half of the budget! – on marketing. The marketing budget of a film like Titanic will be more than the cost of several British films added together.
Overall there is an illusion of diversity and consumer choice being promoted. Hansen (2000) rightly notes that the situation is ambivalent on the grounds that multiplexes replacing badly designed, uncomfortable cinemas or providing a service where none previously existed is the upside of this development. But this point needs to be developed further, surely neither situation is satisfactory. Multiplexes only serve the interests of large-scale commercial enterprises. Both planning issues and issues of cultural citizenship issue need to be addressed. cultural citizenship is the matter of rights of represntation of people. Arguably these rights are overridden by the greed of large companies.
Planning and Environmental Issues
Many contemporary urban planners are stressing the importance of ‘polycentric’ planning, that is the importance of developing local community ties as well as reducing the huge traffic flows on motorways which has been encouraged by the out-of-town development.
It isn’t just a British phenomena it is a worldwide one. Below is an image of the first multiplex in Vietnam:
Locally available entertainments which are not reliant upon car usage and which can provide high quality viewing and be sensitive to the expressed needs of the local audience in terms of programming would be an extension of cultural citizenship in the face of rampant commercialism.
Here is a link to Friends of the Earth criticism of the multiplex
Where do we want cinema to go?
This ambivalence about cinema and its role in British culture is one which isn’t discussed enough. Do we want huge sheds primarily designed to part teenagers and people in their early twenties from their money whilst closing down alternative avenues? We can certainly say that what we have now is ‘popular culture’ in the sense that enough people go for the spectacle for the industry to exist. Should multiplexes be forced to take a certain amount of european Films? would this just lead to the creation of quota quickies. Is the problem worth worrying about?
It certainly seems to be the case that the multiplex system totally dominates British cinema and that it is geared up to showing Hollywood productions and maximising profits. Exhibition companies tend to do well out of this and in Britain we can’t complain too much as many technicians are employed in making Hollywood films. To some extent Hollywood films create a sort of global popular culture although the audiences that enjoy them may read them differently according to their own experiences.
Lots of room for dicussion here so please make use of the comments boxes. Ciao fo now :-)
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A very fine bibliography and resources held by the University of California at Berkley
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UK Film courses on Italian Cinema
University of Warwick: Italian with Film Studies
University of Leicester "Postwar Italian Cinema"
University of Sussex. Cinema and Nation: Italian Cinema
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This page is simply to alert you to links podcasts etc relating to the unfurling and sometimes surprising world of New Media Technologies.
This page is especially relevant to OCR A level media students doing the new media technologies unit.
The links will also be useful to many students who are involved with cultural studies, new media courses, business studies or even (perhaps especially) good old-fashioned economics.
Web places to go
In the sidebar of this blog there is a regular feed provided from Click On-Line the BBC News 24 team which deals with New Media tecnologies.
Also on the site is a podcast feed from the Ecnomist including its annual review of what the coming year might bring. There are several interviews about the internet and new technologies here. Follow the hyperlink for the latest stories and / or if you want to get the feed on your own computer.
BBC Digital world. The Web page is here.
It is certainly the case that for at least the last couple of years TV company executives have been getting increasingly worried. Their audiences have been gradually drifting and although advertising revenues are still quite healthy “where audiences go advertising will follow” and audiences are historically the great enigma of media of companies whatever the technology involved. The financial shennanigens surrounding an attempted take-over of ITV by NTL and Richard Branson was blocked by a surprise stockmarket move by Murdoch the Younger using SKY as the vehicle. This all happened in December 2006 and is a harbinger of shake-ups to come. The following week Michael Grade comes to ITV as it’s new chief executive.
This article starts to examine how the underlying features of the media world are changing. It appears that new models of media are increasingly being driven from below by start-up companies chasing advertising revenue. how are more established companies and their business models coping with the new threats and opportunities? This is a dynamic world and we will be continually updating this and its associated pages in response to this rapidly changing environment.
For the most up-to date stories as they appear go to the Click section in the sidebar of this blog. Click is the BBC programme which is part of News 24 that deals with new media technologies.
The underlying problems for ITV in particular is the phenomenol success of Web 2. Sites such as “My Space” and “U-Tube” barely existed 2 years ago. A few months ago “U-Tube” was sold to Google for about £1 billion. Not bad going for a company with only 67 employees which had only been going for a couple of years.
Other new Web 2 companies are making tremendous strides and will soon become part of everyday conversation. “Digg” is a Social News site which is very successful in America and this model might well come to challenge conventional British News Broadcasters in due course.
But what is going to appeal to the watchers of soap operas the most is the creation of new social worlds of which the market leader is undoubtedly Second Life. _Second Life- is a virtual world in 3D which allwos participants to literally engage in another life. There is even a lot of real money involved. $1 buys $250 of the virtual currencies. Expect the exchange rate to be be more challenging in a couple of years time. We will look at this phenomenon in another article. suffice it to say that the Financial Times weekend sent a reporter in to investigate in November and the news agency Reuters already has offices in this world!
2007: Will TV experience that “Music Moment”?
The Economist “World in 2007” is blatantly asking this question. It defines “music moment” as:
the realisation that a core audience (the 18-34-year-old male) has moved online, possibly fo good. The rise of YouuTube and an army of other free video-hosting services has created a phenomenon of short, user-created videos. (My emphasis)
A New Distribution Model
The Economist article points out that the model for distribution is a viral one -please see the piece on Viral Advertising for more on this. The spread of these programmes is via e.mail and blogs not through the very expensive billboard advertisments and prime-time TV slots:
...most worryingly for the networks, they are not accompanied by 30-second advertisiong spots, or any other advertising at all. This is Television but not as we have known it. (My emphasis)
The YouTube Audience
Audience is what media is fundamentally about and YouTube has got it in spades! The Economist estimates the following figures which are extraordinary:
Today YouTube streams more than 100m videos a day, which gives it an audience nearly as big as America’s largest TV networks.
It is this dramatically growing audience which has come seemingly out of nowhere which is giving conventional TV companies a headache. This phenomenon is very much of the ‘home-brewed’ kind. much of the content is low quality but then the people making most of it are teenagers who are just learning about life technology and everything.
The fact is that it is a cultural phenomenon which has cought the teenage imagination just as Rock music did for the sixties generation. It is a generation representing themselves to a generation:
The video diaries of Lonelygir15, done with a $150 webcam, attracted an audience of millions drawn to the authenticity of a home-schooled teenager baring her soul (which made it all the more ironic when she actually turned out to be a promotional project for some aspiring film-makers). (My emphasis)
Another case of a YouTube marketing success was the indie band OK Go
which gained them a star turn at the MTV music awards show. The marketers and advertisers are the ones behind which is ‘keeping TV programmers off the sills of thier skyscrpers’:
...each year advertisers collectively pay more and more for a smaller and smaller audience
Chris Anderson suggests that if anyone can link google style advertising to the content that people choose to watch:
...then the house of cards that is the economics of the broadcast TV industry will come crashing down…where the viewers go the advertisers will eventually follow. and the viewers are moving to the web at a pace that will become impossible to ignore.
Anderson’s seems like a very solid appraisal of the enormous shifts taht are taking place in the media world. whilst predicting that actual pace of change isn’t a game worth getting into the fundamental issue that people are increasingly migrating to the web for their media content whatever that may be is opening up a very different media future for everybody. It isw a future which has been built on ever more effective telecommunications systems.
This includes the development of readily affordable broadband, which can be delivered wirelessly as well and increasingly through mobile devices of various kinds. Web technologies are also advancing rapidly and the ability to have whole multimedia software packages from Google for example means that as well as TV the model of Personal computing is being challenged as well.
Just as 10 years ago hardly anybody had e.mail it has now become normal for large numbers of the population of advanced economies. In another 10 years uploding your holiday video from a beach in Greece or Bali straight onto onto a site like YouTube will replace the postcard and will be the preferred system of communication. Watching short video downloads on the web-linked panel in front of your seat on the coach to the holiday hotel will also be normal. The chances are that everybody on that coach will be watching something different! What future broadcast TV with audiences of millions on a regular basis? NO FUTURE methinks!!
What future do you think there is for TV. Well thought out comments in the comments box below please, ciao for now :-).
Some Catch-up links since this article was published
Interesting BBC TV Development following their online radio model of ‘Listen Again’: Catch-UP TV Guardian report.
TV’s changing model could be through linking Slingback technology with 3G Mobiles. See here for the latest Guardian report.
Anderson, Chris. 2006. ” The Web is a Serial Killer: and Television’s Next”. The World in 2007 Economist. London
For the web version of this article click here