Wagging the Long Tail: Digital Distribution and Peripheral Screen Production Industries

In the context of digital media convergence, Richard Harris in his recent monograph Film in the Age of Digital Distribution (2007) acknowledges the need for urgent Australian research into the future of the screen production industry when he says, “I believe that government and industry need to stand back, take a long hard look at where the industry is likely to go over the next ten to twenty years, and start asking questions about the future place of content within it” (Harris, 2007, p.61). New technologies also provide an environment in which the distinction between producer and consumer is breaking down. While audiences still demand and enjoy quality professional product, their active personal experience of media production means that they are no longer content to remain bystanders to the production process. The terms ‘pro-sumer’ (Toffler, 1980) and more recently ‘prod-user’ (Bruns 2006a, 2007) have been coined to describe the role of the consumer as co-creator of content. Harris thus asks questions including ‘how do we navigate this emerging media landscape?’, ‘how can Australian films take advantage of these opportunities and challenges?’ and ‘what innovative approaches are there for distribution?’

The traditional model of distribution, based on the pre-selling of distribution rights to broadcasters and/or cinema distributors to finance a film or television program, gives the gatekeepers (television programmers, commissioning editors, film distributors, financiers) ultimate power to determine which stories will be made available to the public. Much has been made in marketing, new media and creative industries circles about the potential for new models of digital distribution to by-pass traditional gatekeepers (Anderson 2006; Bruns 2006a, 2007; Jenkins 2006), enabling producers to immediately and cost-effectively distribute their product to targeted niche audiences. Both academics and senior members of the Australian film industry interviewed by the authors are engaged with this idea, but the value of digital models of distribution remains largely unexplored by academics.  This paper will discuss emerging trends around digital film distribution and consider which screen production and distribution responses may be successful in different contexts.


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