Blog Post

Exploring New Models of Digital Distribution and We Are Colony

Following on from my last blog post about the Digital Cultures and Film Studies workshop organised by our Digital Humanities Research Group at Queen’s University Belfast, I would like to take this opportunity to give my thoughts on a recent workshop held by the group.

Philip Drake (Edge Hill University) talked about We Are Colony, a video-on-demand platform for independent film and additional content companion. I felt it was an interesting follow-up to the talk by Sarah Atkinson about the Deep Film Access Project, which I talked about in my last blog post. Whilst the projects seem quite similar, Drake is looking at We Are Colony from a research perspective, whereas Atkinson had an input into the DFA Project (its aesthetic, content, interface, etc.) from the beginning. Drake however is using the platform, which he has been involved with from early conception, as a basis for collecting data on independent film distribution.

We Are Colony is described as “The Criterion Collection meets Netflix” with additional companion content, promising early and exclusive behind-the-scenes access. Content such as trailers, deleted and extended scenes, cast and crew interviews, outtakes, scripts, storyboards, stills, production diaries, posters, merchandise, reviews, critical essays – similar to much of the content proposed by the DFA Project. The difference of course, is that the DFA Project is not limited to independent film.

Currently, VOD services are growing at 27% annually and predicted to overtake theatrical box office by 2017; UK DVD sales fell 17.6% in 2012; Digital video purchases rose 11.4% to £100 million; VOD is expected to overtake linear TV by 2020 – this is something the BBC are trialling with BBC Three, which will be available online only from 2016.

But how does this fit into my own research? My PhD research is concerned with the impact on Pixar Animation Studios following the studio's acquisition by The Walt Disney Company in 2006 - part of that is understanding what has been happening both at Pixar and Disney Animation over the last 30 years, in terms of feature film releases (with an element of commercial and critical reception), development of animation technology, marketing and distribution. In that sense then, I am interested in how distribution has changed/enhanced/impacted the brand identity of these film studios. Disney only recently in 2014 released a VOD platform – Disney Movies Anywhere (available only in the US at present), a “digital movie locker” for all Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm branded films. Yet, Disney still operates the “Disney Vault”, whereby the company releases titles for home entertainment for a set period of time and then “locks” them away in the vault, thereby controlling and limiting the release of certain Disney animated films. Unless Disney Movies Anywhere does not have “classic” Disney Animation titles, this seems somewhat paradoxical. And how does the company deal with other VOD platforms – Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc. – that are competitors for Disney’s own service. I noticed that whilst Disney Movies Anywhere is not yet available in the UK, Netflix UK currently has 12 Disney Animation and three Pixar titles, whilst Netflix US has 23 Disney titles, but no Pixar films. Also, out of Disney Animation’s extensive catalogue, there are only six titles that are available on both the US and UK Netflix: The Emperor’s New Groove, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo and Stitch, Mulan and Pocahontas (I’m only looking at the animated films that had a theatrical release, so direct-to-video releases such as, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II and Kronk’s New Groove are excluded from the list)

Definitely something to look further into…

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