Should Cinema Stop Illegal Downloads? A Response

Jonny Bark posted yesterday his thoughts on cinema, and film piracy. And I must say, I have a few thoughts myself.

The way I see it is that film and music are completely different from one another and their respective industries. Although in today’s understanding, the actual difference between a song (MP3) and a video (MP4) is a number (and obviously a lot of hidden code). The cinema industry was built on affordable entertainment; television sets were commonplace decades after the beginnings of cinema. People used to go to the cinema not just for watching films, but also for news, making it a significant medium for information delivery.

The paradigm shift for cinema was the TV boom- the news could be seen in the comfort of your own home and as a result cinema was becoming less significant as a source for information. Independent cinemas started closing down from the 1970s; iconically, Coventry has such a rich history in cinema with many buildings still having their unique cinema-esque facades, but they no longer house films. As TV revolutionised in home entertainment, bringing children’s television, comedies, dramas and soap, cinema had fierce competition.

In the 1970s and 80s VHS became a household name. Video Home System literally brought cinema into the home; months after the cinema release of big films, they could be purchased on magnetic tape and played over and over on the home player. This kind of distribution of information was abused because with the increased cost to go to the cinema (which is partly due to lower demand), people turned to piracy.

I just want to point out now that where there is the means to mass distribute entertainment, there is someone right there to abuse it. Piracy is not new and cinema has been fighting hard. In the latter years of 35mm film, each reel had its own unique code on it so that when it was copied, there was a trace to which copy it was from. In today’s digital field there are digital locks placed on video files, encrypted to that they will only work with the cinema players.

What more can the industry do to stop piracy? Well, it doesn’t matter because it isn’t going away. But still, in light of the age of mass information; some cinemas have highlighted gaps in the market- the experience.

The Secret Cinema now charges £78 to see classic films. You sign up, buy a ticket and wait for instructions of where to go.

‘How do you get 25,000 people to pay £50 for a ticket to see a film without telling them what the film is?’

The answer, if you are Riggall, is to promise, and deliver, an immersive experience that builds the world of the film around its audience, elevating them from spectators to enthralled participants. Then to rely on word of mouth, and frustration at the passivity and instant gratification offered by contemporary culture, to do the rest. The air of secrecy and complicity makes the experience more precious to the audience: the first rule of Secret Cinema is that you don’t talk about Secret Cinema.

London Evening Standard

People want the experience. The Kinema in the Woods has also felt this audience need and has responded with countless themed showings: Jaws screening in the local swimming pool, Rocky Horror Picture Show dress-ups and chick-flick slumber parties. And guess what? They are sold out. Every single time.

Image Source: Kinema in the Woods, Facebook

The old cinema business model is broken. Just like the music industry as Jonny describes. But what is it that musicians make their money from? Gigs. People want to see the live performance. I think it’s brilliant that cinemas (interestingly independent ones) are encouraged by this demand for the experience and giving the public what they want. We will always step sideways to avoid paying more (or any) money if we have to. I mean, who honestly doesn’t sneak in their own bag of sweets into the cinema these days?

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