Distribution by Jordan McQueen

The film industry’s digital revolution is one of the most beneficial and important chapters in the entire history of film. Its impact is a lasting one, forever cementing that the film industry is now majorly digital and it is unlikely to switch back. This major change is extremely positive in every aspect of the industry but particularly so in distribution. The film industry is a business and all businesses come down to one thing, money, and distribution is the area in which companies can save the most in switching to a purely digital method of distributing films.

Before the update to digital, back in the era of celluloid the distribution of film was lengthy and definitely costly. Thousands of reels of film had to be printed and sent out to cinemas and picture houses all over the world. The cost of doing so is considerably high, with it costing as much as $1,500 to ship a single print of 35mm film to an American cinema, $7.5 million for 5000 reels. Digital formats allow distributors to do this for as much as 90% less cost than that of celluloid.[1]

It takes very little time at all to copy a digital file for distribution speeding up the process and can be copied as many times as possible without losing quality and is significantly cheaper to do than film as film reels are expensive to buy, many would be needed to be copied and shipped out further increasing the price. Celluloid takes significantly longer to copy than its digital counterpart.

Digitally distributing a film also takes up far less room than celluloid reels. Transporting these thousands of film reels would take up large amounts of room whether on a ship or a plane. Whereas shipping a film digitally could take up as much room as Hard Drive, which is far easier to store than the counterpart. But both celluloid film and devices such as hard drives degrade, making neither one better than the other in this sense. Celluloid degrades when played, even faster if used frequently. It also decays if it is not kept in the correct conditions. It gradually lowers in visual quality and eventually physically falls apart. Hard Drives can become physically damage but the files stored on them can become corrupted too, leaving them completely useless. This can be easily overcome however by having multiple copies on multiple hard drives so the film is not lost.

With the increase in popularity of streaming services along with the various other home viewing services like Blu-ray, DVD and video on-demand, there are now as many as 250 digital formats. Meaning companies have to distribute films to a far greater number of retailers and services than before, catering to the formatting needs of each, changing things like video resolution and file types. Studios and distributors however have had to change business models slightly to maximize profits. It used to be the case that DVD would be released first as it was thought that that was where customer’s first port of call to access a film post-cinematic release would be, but in order to take advantage of the digital market, some studios have begun to simultaneously release their films on the majority of formats.[2] The option to simultaneously release films also helps to reduce the threat of piracy.[3]

Some studios are now implementing the use of an interoperable digital master format (IMF) which would make distributing films far easier. Instead of shipping in 250 different formats, one single file type would be sent out capable of being used by the majority of retailers.[4] The use of this makes the distribution process far easier and saves the studios a lot of money.

The take-over of digital may seem highly beneficial now but at the start it was expensive for cinemas to make the change to digital projectors from the classic film projectors. While the bigger multiplexes and chain cinemas could more easily afford the change, many of the smaller art house cinemas could not pay out the $60,000 price tag attached to most digital projectors at the time. Meaning they were limited to showing celluloid films and films that were shot digitally and then transferred to film, and with far fewer filmmakers shooting using film limiting their ability to compete with the bigger cinemas that can show all the latest digital releases.

The impact of digital technology on the distribution of film is a high one and is mostly positive. Digital is cheaper in almost every aspect when compared to film. Money is saved at every turn whether it’s the cost of producing the copies of the film, which is significantly cheaper than spending on huge numbers of 35mm celluloid, or shipping it out to the retailers on a hard drive rather than dozens of film reels. The process of distributing film is much faster now in the digital age and can now be released simultaneously across all formats to take advantage of every consumer base to maximize profits. Digital distribution does have its flaws however, with the initial expense of buying and fitting cinema screens with digital projectors, which can be quite expensive. And also the fact that the hard drives that carry the films are vulnerable to damage and can become corrupted, but even with this they are still more sturdy than celluloid. The overall outcome of the impact of digital technology on dis

[1] Helen Alexander, the Triumph of Digital Will Be the Death of Many Movies (2014), New Republic


[accessed 1 May 2016]

2 Studios adjust to digital distribution (2009), Variety

< http://variety.com/2009/digital/markets-festivals/studios-adjust-to-digital-distribution-1118010062/ >

[accessed 1 May 2016]

[3] Nick Allen, Hollywood says goodbye to celluloid (2011), Telegraph

< http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/8975284/Hollywood-says-goodbye-to-celluloid.html >

[accessed 2 May 2016]


[4] Studios adjust to digital distribution (2009), Variety

< http://variety.com/2009/digital/markets-festivals/studios-adjust-to-digital-distribution-1118010062/ >

[accessed 1 May 2016]


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