Section B Institutions and Audiences Revision Guide


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Revision Guide for Section B of the OCR AS Media Studies exam focused on the film industry.

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Section B Institutions and Audiences Revision Guide

  1. 1. AS Media Studies – Section B: Institutions and Audiences Revision Additional resources on (follow AS Media Institutions link at the top of the page). Twitter - @nealewademedia Email – Media Ownership The concentration of media ownership has led to the media industry being dominated by a small number of major global media conglomerates such as Time Warner, Disney, and News Corp, creating an oligopoly. In the film industry the market is dominated by the Big Six studios, such as Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and Walt Disney Pictures. Each of the Big Six studios is a subsidiary of a major conglomerate, for example 20th Century Fox are a subsidiary of News Corp. The Big Six Studios took 63% of global box office revenue in 2012, and take around 70-75% of UK box office revenue every year. As the studios are all subsidiaries of huge conglomerates with billions of dollars of annual revenue this allows the studios to have big budgets, meaning they can afford to use spectacle to appeal to a mass audience by using the most advanced special effects, impressive set design, and big name stars. This makes it harder for independent film production companies to compete. ‘The Avengers’ (2012) is an example of a typical studio blockbuster. Produced by Marvel Studios, a subsidiary of Disney, and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures the film was made on a budget of $220 million. As a result the film made extensive use of special effects with over 2,000 effects shots, including use of CGI and motion capture (to create the Hulk character). The film also has mass audience appeal typical of Hollywood products. The film appeals to a wide range of different demographics by including characters from a mixture of age groups, ethnicities, and genders. The film is also pre-sold as it is based on a successful series of comic books. Using superheroes makes it easier for the film to appeal to a global audience as the characters are archetypes that can be easily recognised, and are not culturally specific. ‘The Avengers’ demonstrates the mass audience, blockbuster model used by the major studios which allows them to dominate the film industry. This benefits the studios, but makes it difficult for independent, and non-American films to achieve global success. This also reduces the variety of types of films available to audiences. Cross-media convergence and Synergy Because the Big Six studios are all subsidiaries of major conglomerates they benefit from cross-media convergence and synergy. The Walt Disney Company is an example of cross- media convergence as it produces and distributes a wide range of different types of media. Disney is made up of five different divisions, including Walt Disney Studios (film studios, record labels), Media Networks (television channels), and Disney Interactive (video games, web-based media). Disney have been described as the ‘masters of media synergy’, and have developed a range of multi-platform brands, such as Hannah Montana which included a television series, theatrically released film, soundtrack albums, magazines, merchandise, and online games. Using synergy in this way helps Disney to maximise ancillary revenue and maintain brand awareness.
  2. 2. AS Media Studies – Section B: Institutions and Audiences Revision Additional resources on (follow AS Media Institutions link at the top of the page). Twitter - @nealewademedia Email – Disney made extensive use of synergy to promote the release of ‘Toy Story 3’ (2010). This included holding a Toy Story Day on the Disney Channel prior to the release of the film, and the release of a video game by Disney Interactive. The key advantage of synergy is that it maximises revenue whilst promoting the brand, and benefits all the subsidiaries involved. The Toy Story Day would attract viewers to the Disney Channel, whilst simultaneously promoting the release of the film. The use of synergy and cross-media convergence was key to the success of ‘The Avengers’ (2012). Disney bought Marvel Entertainment is 2009, and oversaw the release of a series of films such as Iron Man, and Hulk which built towards the release of ‘The Avengers’ film. An extensive range of merchandise for the Marvel characters helped to increase brand awareness and generate ancillary revenue, as a result of synergy between the studio division, and the Disney Stores and merchandise divisions. The development of the Avengers Alliance Facebook game is another example of cross- media convergence and synergy, with the Disney Interactive division developing a game to promote the Avengers film through social media. After the success of the ‘Avengers’ film Disney produced two television programmes, one of which is shown on the Disney XD channel, and one (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) which is shown on the ABC network, another subsidiary of Disney. Disney is using the popularity of the Avengers’ film franchise to encourage viewers to watch their television subsidiaries. The television programmes will also maintain interest in the film franchise before the release of Avengers 2 in 2015. This demonstrates the way in which cross-media convergence and synergy allow major conglomerates to maximise revenue from a film brand, and help a range of subsidiaries to be successful. The successful use of synergy is another factor in the continued dominance of the film industry by the Big Six studios, as independent companies do not have the opportunity or resources to use synergy on the same scale as the studios. British Film Industry The British film industry is much smaller in scale than the American film industry. Independent British production companies such as Warp Films tend to be relatively small. As a result production companies often work together, and may rely on funding from government organisations such as the British Film Institute (BFI). ‘The Selfish Giant’ (2013) is an example of an independent British film. It was funded by Film Four and the BFI with a budget of £1.4 million, and focuses on two working class boys in Bradford. The film is culturally and regionally specific, and includes two unknown actors in the lead roles. As a result it lacks the mass audience appeal of studio films such as the Avengers. The Selfish Giant made £300,000 theatrical box office, showing the film made a loss. This reflects the fact that according to research by the BFI only 4% of low budget (less than £2 million) British films make a profit. The contrast between the social realist style of The Selfish Giant, and the mass audience appeal of blockbusters such as The Avengers is another factor in the dominance of US studios.
  3. 3. AS Media Studies – Section B: Institutions and Audiences Revision Additional resources on (follow AS Media Institutions link at the top of the page). Twitter - @nealewademedia Email – One of the challenges facing British films is distribution. In the UK film distribution is dominated by the Big Six American studios. They are consistently the top six distributors in Britain every year. As the studios are vertically integrated in terms of production and distribution this makes it harder for non-studio films to compete. The effect on distribution is suggested by the fact that films distributed by Disney such as The Avengers, and Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) opened on wide release in the UK on over 500 screens, The Selfish Giant opened on just 35 screens. However, developments in technology affecting distribution may make it easier for independent films to reach their audiences. ‘A Field in England’ (2013) demonstrates how new technology can help the distribution of independent British films. The film’s budget of £316,000 was financed by Film4’s Film4.0 division. The low budget nature of the film fitted Film4.0’s innovative model. Film4.0 was created to find new ways of connecting talent and ideas to audiences using digital technology. The low budget also reduced the financial risk involved. P&A spend of £112,000, including £57,000 from the BFI (British Film Institute). A Field in England used day-and-date release, being released simultaneously on 17 cinema screens, DVD, Blu-Ray, Transactional VOD (iTunes etc.), and free-to-air television through Film4. Using this release model built momentum around a single release date, maximising the marketing campaign’s effect. Using a range of different release platforms helped the film to reach its audience. Nearly 400,000 people watched the film on free to air television through Film Four. Around 10,000 people bought or rented the film either using TVOD or on Blu Ray/DVD, and the film took £50,000 in theatrical box office. By making the film available in all formats simultaneously it allowed the audience to watch it using the most convenient platform for them. The unusual nature of the film’s release also generated publicity in newspapers and broadcast media. This demonstrates the benefits of day-and- date release for independent film releases. It also suggested that fears that day-and-date release will reduce theatrical box office are exaggerated, as 77% of the cinema audience for the film knew they could watch the film for free on television but wanted to pay for the experience of watching the film in the cinema. Technology Production Technology 3D Technological developments have been central to the revival of 3D. Whilst there have been 3D booms in the past, notably during the 1950s and 1980s, these have been short-lived due to image-quality issues. The emergence of digital technology has gone a long way to tackling these problems. The invention of the Reality Camera System by James Cameron and Vince Page allowed them to develop a camera, the Sony 3D-T, which captured stereoscopic vision in a way that mimicked the human eye. In order to do this they used lenses which telescoped the image allowing them to use two HD cameras in a single rig, which replicated the human depth perception by being only 70mm apart.
  4. 4. AS Media Studies – Section B: Institutions and Audiences Revision Additional resources on (follow AS Media Institutions link at the top of the page). Twitter - @nealewademedia Email – These cameras allowed James Cameron to use 3D effectively in the production of ‘Avatar’ (2009) to create a spectacular visual experience. This was the basis for the film’s huge box office success, achieving the highest worldwide box office gross with $2.7 billion. One of the benefits of 3D for studios is that more money can be charged for tickets (usually £2/3 more), meaning 3D films can generate more money from less tickets. This success was one of the economic factors that led to the revival of 3D. Following Avatar’s release a large number of films were released in 3D, including Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, and The Avengers. Another factor that drove the revival of 3D was the threat of online piracy. The rapid expansion of broadband has allowed audiences to stream or download film releases for free from piracy websites, which is estimated to cost studios billions every year. Using 3D was seen by studios as a way of producing a film that could not be pirated effectively due to its use of 3D technology. Furthermore, in order to get the full 3D experience the audience would have to watch the film in the cinema. Whilst the box office success of Avatar suggests its use of 3D technology was effective in encouraging audiences to watch it theatrically, it was also the most pirated film of all time, being watched illegally online over 21 million times in the year after its release. The popularity of 3D peaked in 2010 when seven of the top eleven films globally were released in 3D. 3D ticket sales accounted for 24% of UK box office revenue in 2010. Since then the popularity of 3D films has declined, falling to 18% by 2012. This has seen fewer films being produced in 3D, with 43 3D films released in the UK in 2012 down from 47 the year before. Whilst 80% of tickets sold for Avatar were in 3D, that had dropped to 52% for The Avengers in 2012. From the audience’s point of view 3D offers what The Hobbit director, Peter Jackson, calls a ‘more immersive experience’. Especially in films such as Avatar and The Hobbit 3D helps the audience to be drawn into the world of films. However 3D tickets are more expensive, and 3D can make the image appear darker. 2D films which have been cheaply converted to 3D are often ineffective and may have contributed to the decline in the popularity of 3D. Technological developments in both film production and exhibition were essential to the revival of 3D, coupled with the economic success of Avatar and the attempt to use 3D to counteract piracy. Whilst 3D appears to have peaked, it seems it has gone beyond the novelty status associated with it in the 1950s and 1980s, and given the large number of 3D screens globally film producers are likely to continue to use 3D. Audiences appear to have become more selective in terms of which films they watch in 3D, only being willing to pay for 3D tickets if the experience is likely to justify the additional cost. CGI/Motion Capture Use of CGI has become a common feature of Hollywood studio blockbusters. Films such as The Avengers, and Captain America: Winter Soldier feature over 2,000 effects shots, and in Tron: Legacy (2010) 90% of background shots were created by CGI. For filmmakers CGI offers the opportunity to create visually spectacular images, which provide audiences with a more impressive viewing experience. The audience appeal of films that use lots of special effects is demonstrated by the box office success of films like Avatar and The Hobbit.
  5. 5. AS Media Studies – Section B: Institutions and Audiences Revision Additional resources on (follow AS Media Institutions link at the top of the page). Twitter - @nealewademedia Email – However the high costs involved mean that only major studio productions can afford to use advanced special effects extensively, creating a barrier to entry to independent producers. Distribution Digital Cinema Projection Digital cinema projection involves in the distribution and projection of films in a digital format, instead of distributing films on 35mm film reels. Over the last decade there has been a huge increase in the number of digital screens around the world. This was largely prompted by the economic success of Avatar (2009) which required digital projection facilities in order to be screened in 3D. This encouraged cinemas to rapidly convert in order to be able to make the most of any subsequent 3D blockbusters, despite the cost involved (around £100,000) for a digital projector. 90% of US and UK screens are now digital, and in January 2014 Paramount became the first major studio to stop distributing films on 35mm in the US with The Wolf of Wall Street being their first digital only release. Two-thirds of cinema screens worldwide are now digital. The increase in digital screens has been largely driven by technological and economic factors.Distributing films in a digital format to cinemas significantly lowers costs. Each duplicate of a 35mm film reel costs around £1,500, whereas digital distribution costs around a tenth of that. Duplication of 35mm cost studios around £100m in 2002, with further freight costs of £30m, meaning the introduction of digital cinemas has allowed studies to save a large amount of money. Generally, now digital prints of a film are sent on a hard drive holding a data file of 150-200 GB. The projectionist uploads the film onto the digital projector and creates a menu for its projection. A digital key is used to safeguard the film against piracy. Another benefit of digital projection is that unlike 35mm the film print will not deteriorate over time. Independent productions also benefit from digital cinema. High prints and advertising costs were widely seen as barrier to independent films being widely distributed, and in the UK independent releases were rarely shown on more than 30 screens in the opening weekend of release. This contrasts with major studio releases that generally open on 400-500 screens in the UK. Afactor that has supported the development of digital cinema in Britain was the Digital Screen Network initiative run by the UK Film Council in 2006. The UK Film Council was an organisation funded by the government to support film in Britain. They spent £12 million to support the conversion of 250 screens around the UK to digital. This was especially beneficial to independent cinemas, and smaller chains such as Picturehouse. The aim of the scheme was to broaden the choice of films shown at cinemas, and help independent and foreign films to receive wider releases. Digital cinema also benefits audiences by increasing the availability of accessible cinema, with subtitles available for the hearing impaired and audio-description for the visually impaired.
  6. 6. AS Media Studies – Section B: Institutions and Audiences Revision Additional resources on (follow AS Media Institutions link at the top of the page). Twitter - @nealewademedia Email – Whilst the Digital Screen Network has gone some way to widening the choice for film audiences, offering them the opportunity to see more independent films and a range of cultural events, film distribution in the UK is still dominated by US studios. Major studio releases open on wide release of around 500 screens (The Avengers, The Lego Movie), in contrast to independent British films such as The Selfish Giant which opened on just 35 screens. Piracy The economic effects of online piracy are significant. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) estimated in 2005 that online piracy cost the film industry $7 billion a year in lost revenue. Further evidence of the economic impact of online piracy can be seen in the rapid decline in DVD sales. Sales of DVDs peaked in 2004, and have declined since then. Given that this coincides with the expansion of high speed broadband internet access it seems likely that a contributing factor to declining DVD sales was the ready availability of films through online piracy. DVD sales used to account for around half of a studio’s profits on a film. The 30% decline in DVD sales since 2004 has posed a significant economic challenge to the film industry. This is suggested by the fact the major studios are now producing less films now than they did 10 years ago, before the emergence of broadband. Loss of ancillary revenue from DVD sales has meant studios are finding more difficult to finance films. In 2012 Disney released 13 films, compared to 22 in 2002, whilst Sony released 18 films in 2012 compared to 31 in 2002. Clearly internet piracy poses a significant threat to the film industry. In order to tackle piracy film institutions are trying a range of tactics. This has included increased use of 3D, use of legal online VOD platforms and shortening distribution windows, as Disney did with the UK release of Alice in Wonderland making it available on DVD 12 weeks after theatrical release, instead of the usual 17 weeks. This helps to tackle piracy as consumers often pirate films as they do not want to wait for the film to come out on a home entertainment platform. Some films such as Mum and Dad, and A Field in England have used the day and date release strategy, making the film available on all formats in the day of its release, thereby removing the need to pirate the film. This strategy is generally best suited to independent films, though Veronica Mars became the first film to be distributed by a major studio to use day and date release. Early electronic sell-through is used by studios to make films available to buy by digital download four weeks before their DVD release, a strategy used for the release of Iron Man 3. Whilst online piracy has a significant impact on the film industry, it does appear that with the development of online platforms and devices allowing consumers to access content legally that the threat of piracy may be declining somewhat. Video on Demand Technological convergence has led to the rise of Video on Demand (VOD) as a distribution method for films. Convergent technologies such as tablets, smartphones, laptops, and smart TVs allow the audience to access film content via the internet.
  7. 7. AS Media Studies – Section B: Institutions and Audiences Revision Additional resources on (follow AS Media Institutions link at the top of the page). Twitter - @nealewademedia Email – The popularity of Subscription Video on Demand sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video has seen the market for online VOD in the UK increase by 123% in 2012. The proliferationof online platforms including SVOD, and Transactional Video on Demand sites such as iTunes and Blinkbox, has boosted the market. Technological factors have also driven this growth, with broadband penetration of 76% in the UK, and average speeds increasing to 12 Mbps making it easier to access film content online. The development of internet- enabled Smart TVs, and the popularity of tablet devices have also underpinned this growth. VOD benefits independent producers as it lowers distribution costs, and allowing more films to be distributed digitally to their audience. An example of this is the British film ‘Pulp’ (2012) which became the first film to premiere on the Xbox (an example of technological convergence). ‘Pulp’ was not given a theatrical or DVD release, meaning that games console platform allowed it to be distributed to an audience. Independent producers have made use of the opportunity to use VOD platforms as part of day-and-date release strategies which maximise audience awareness around one release date. Examples include ‘Mum and Dad’ and ‘A Field in England’. Funding The development of online technology offers new ways in which films can be funded. Some films now use crowdfunding to obtain funding from the audience using websites such as Kickstarter. An example of this was the film ‘Veronica Mars’ (2014). Based on a cancelled television show the producers were unable to get studio backing for the film, so used Kickstarter to encourage the audience to pledge money in return for a variety of rewards. The film received $5.7 million in funding, and went on to be distributed by Warner Bros. This suggests that online technology allows filmmakers to interact directly with their audience in order to secure funding, making them less reliant on established studios. For audiences offers the benefits of a sense of involvement in the project. Viral marketing and the use of social media are examples of how technology affects the way in which films are marketed (see below). Marketing Synergy is an important way in which the major studios promote their films. Synergy helps the studios to maintain their dominance over the film industry as independent companies are unable to use synergy to the same extent as the Big Six studios (see above). Viral Marketing Viral marketing involves using the internet to spread promotional messages (such as videos), relying on the audience to forward them on. The benefits of viral marketing are that it is significantly cheaper than other forms of film advertising (e.g. broadcast and ambient media), it engages the audience, and can create hype around the release of a film.
  8. 8. AS Media Studies – Section B: Institutions and Audiences Revision Additional resources on (follow AS Media Institutions link at the top of the page). Twitter - @nealewademedia Email – Viral marketing was used effectively to promote the release of the independent US horror film ‘The Last Exorcism’ (2010). Using the social media website Chatroulette users began online chats with a teenage girl who then appeared to become demonic. A video of user reactions was then released on YouTube, gaining over 8 million views. This was a cost effective way of generating interest in the film and creating word of mouth. The use of websites such as Chatroulette and YouTube also helped the film to appeal to their target demographic of young adults. Viral videos were also used by Disney to promote the release of ‘Toy Story 3’. A fake advert for one of the toys, and an interview called Groovin With Ken were posted on YouTube and were viewed several million times. As Disney wanted to target people in their twenties as well as their usual target audience of children, using social media and viral was effective in achieving this aim. Social Media Social media has become increasingly important in the marketing of films. Using social media offers the benefits of being cheap, interactive, and immediate. It helps the audience to feel involved with film, can also be used to data mine information about the demographics of the audience. The ‘Girl Who Played With Fire’ (2009) is an independent European film that received funding from the UK Film Council to support its use of social media to promote the film’s release. A Facebook game was developed in which users ‘investigated’ their Facebook friends by answering about them. Their scores would then be posted on their Facebook wall, and appear on their friends’ news feed. This is an example of passive advocacy as the audience are raising awareness of the film’s release. A Facebook game was also used to promote the release of ‘Avengers’ (see above), with the Avengers Alliance game having 1.4 million daily users prior to the release of the film. As part of the marketing campaign for ‘Veronica Mars’ (2014) the official website included a Race to the Box Office page in which users could score points every time they mentioned the film, liked or re-tweeted official pages, and gain access to exclusive content. Exam Advice Remember to leave 45 minutes to answer the Institutions question. Relate your answer to the question set. Use terminology. Use specific examples. Evaluate the points you make. Refer to your own experience as a consumer. Include a conclusion summing up and evaluating your argument. Get your facts right.