Cinema and cross-media: adapt or disappear?
by Domenico La Porta
06/10/2011 - European film producers and distributors, cross-media isn’t your friend. That is to say if you don’t jump on the cross-media bandwagon very soon, you will probably lose, in the medium term, a large proportion of the audience who go to movie theatres today to see your films. This warning is far from being excessively alarmist. We’re all undergoing an exponential change unseen before in the history of humanity and the generation who have just reached the age of going to the cinema alone or in a group, the generation Rupert Murdoch calls the "digital natives", attach no more importance to this medium than they do to a multitude of others which, every moment of every day and on demand, satisfy their desire for stories that are told or experienced more or less actively. The "digital natives" naturally have cross-media habits and they can’t be relied on to make an effort to bow to old models of consumption. The effort must come from the market which is still busy counting the empty seats in theatres.
Yes, Cinema, the cinematic work itself must rethink its positioning not solely in terms of distribution, but also its place in a story that transcends the borders of its screenplay. Cinema belongs to cross-media. Like the television, a comic strip, a video game or a real gathering, it can be the vehicle for a story which must also transport the audience – who will sometimes be viewers, sometimes role-players or even vehicles in their own right – on a journey scripted in a linear or non-linear way: that of cross-media.
According to Liz Rosenthal, founder and managing director of the organisation Power To The Pixel, "cinema is too often pushed into a situation where it only uses cross-media for marketing purposes for its own camp. It’s extremely reductive, but it is strong proof of the resistance of old models which haven’t yet found their replacement from a financial point of view."
However, year after year, economic solutions emerge to fit with the reality of cross-media consumption. An example of this is the new funding line awarded in Belgium by the regional fund Wallimage which has decided to invest in cross-media (see news). This novel initiative didn’t escape the notice of Liz Rosenthal who was quick to invite Wallimage to her unmissable event Cross-Media Forum which will be held in London from October 11-14, 2011: "People who put their faith in cross-media today are acting as pioneers. It is very difficult to calculate the return on these investments in economic terms and it is even more difficult to manage and to share out this income between the different stakeholders in a narrative structure that makes use of cross-media, but initiatives like that of Wallimage pave the way we’ll have to take sooner or later. Old narrative models are less and less effective among audiences."
In Europe, proponents of the auteur tradition and artistic control over a story have every reason to take a dim view of cross-media, but History, be it through the legal downloading of works or not, or the meteoric development of TV series, proves that we can no longer control the audience’s media consumption. At the very most, we are permitted to reach out to them on the paths where they can usually be found to invite them on the journey. According to the old saying which recommends that we keep our friends close to us and our enemies even closer, cinema will have no other choice but to adapt and embrace the – not just virtual – reality of cross-media. We can be sure that the pace of this change will quicken as the "digital natives" who make up today’s audience become the producers and storytellers of tomorrow’s films.
(Translated from French)