So how was it for you? As 2010 gambols into view, like a newly minted foal, it seems only polite to ask.
For my part, I’ve been wondering these last few days whether 2009 was especially significant for the film business. It’s probably too early to say, and in any case every year is one of highs and lows, winners and losers. The one just past is no different.
On the strength of available evidence, it’s probably fair to say 2009 was not a singularly momentous year for the film biz. But it did bear witness to a number of watershed moments, and the question of its lasting significance will only be answerable in years to come.
We can say with certainty that theatrical exhibition in many parts of the world has fared well in 2009, further evidence that cinemagoing can be remarkably resilient even in the teeth of a recession (a point made in a paper published by the UK Film Council back in September 2008).
What role did 3D play in all of this? There’s an interesting study to be done to find out the answer (any takers?). 2009 saw the long-heralded relaunch of 3D courtesy of the digital cinema roll out across the globe, and the extra dimension gave movie theatres an added advantage over home entertainment (which makes it my Watershed Moment #1). It’s difficult to predict how long this advantage will last (3D TVs are in development, we’re told) and it remains to be seen whether the premium ticket prices charged to 3D goggle wearers will be sustainable once the novelty wears off.
While we’re on the subject of exhibition, I must mention the Splendor Cinema blog (my Find of the Year #1), which is dedicated to the exhibition business and written by Jon Barrenchea, General Manager of the Duke of York's Picturehouse in Brighton.
With cinema cash registers ringing fulsomely throughout 2009, there’s a certain irony in the fact that the year also saw more concerted experimentation with release windows by the major studios. Exhibitors have resisted any encroachment on the theatrical window, and the studios have contented themselves by playing around with various combinations of home entertainment windows, shuffling VoD and DVD releases on certain titles (Watershed Moment #2). But as trade journalist Diane Garrett reports in her Consumed by Media blog (Find of the Year #2), it may be only a matter of time before the theatrical window comes under renewed pressure.
Online piracy continued to loom large in 2009, despite the high-profile prosecution of Pirate Bay. But faced with dwindling finance from traditional sources and a theatrical market place dominated by expensively marketed studio pictures, independent filmmakers turned in increasing numbers to the digital sphere for production funding and DIY distribution opportunities.
To paraphrase Churchill, 2009 did not mark the end of old way of making and distributing films, and it was not even the beginning of the end. But it was, perhaps, the end of the beginning (a Watershed Moment #3 of sorts; Mark Anderson, writing recently in Wired, certainly thinks so).
The global banking crisis, the explosion of social networking, audience fragmentation, digital media convergence, the rise of multi-platform story-telling, the profusion of free online content and rampant file sharing: individually and collectively they pose a challenge to the status quo, as well as untold opportunities for those less wedded to the Twentieth Century way of doing things.
So much for the bigger picture. Here’s a quick run down of my highlights from the year’s posts:
January, February and March
At the top of the year some video game suit claimed ‘video games are poised to eclipse all other forms of entertainment in the decade ahead’. According to figures published only last week, it looks like he might have a point, at least in revenue terms. But it’s patent nonsense to suggest this makes video games more popular than film, a line some hacks have been touting in recent days.
It’s not only this kind of spurious logic we need to guard against in media coverage of the film business. As LA Times columnist Patrick Goldstein reminded us in January, feature film budget numbers quoted in the media should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Or in Avatar’s case, perhaps a good handful.
The start of the year also saw the launch of a House of Lords enquiry into the British film and TV industries. The Lords Communications Committee took written and oral evidence throughout most of 2009, but there’s still no sign of their final report. Let's hope it's worth the wait.
2009 was a pleasingly fertile year for film business research sources, with the launch of several new web sites including Film New Europe in March, followed in June by Movie Review Intelligence and Marqeestars.com in September (Finds of the Year #3, #4 and #5). Be sure to check them out, if you’ve not done so already.
April, May and June
As previously noted, in 2009 it seemed we were never very far away from a piracy-related story, and in May an independent study by an academic research institute claimed to have established the size and impact of film and music piracy in the UK. Problem was the original press release included a wildly inaccurate figure, as pointed out by Ben Goldacre in the Guardian’s ‘Bad Science’ column. But that didn’t stop The Daily Mail, and others, running with the story.
In terms of the number of page views, by far the year’s most popular post concerned publication by the UK Film Council of Peter Bloore’s paper re-evaluating the independent film value chain (Find of the Year #6).
And around this time the UK Film Council also published a report into the cultural impact of UK film during the period 1946 to 2006 (the report can be downloaded as a PDF here) (a seminar was held to discuss the findings in November- presentations can be found on the UK Film Council web site).
July, August and September
July began encouragingly enough with publication by a couple of US academics of a paper about the use of film data to teach students basic business statistics.
But the big news in this period, certainly from a UK perspective, was of the proposed merger between the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute. I posted my initial thoughts on hearing the news, and was rewarded with an honourable mention in a Sight and Sound editorial. I duly renewed my subscription.
Critic and film writer Jason Solomons tried to kick off a debate about British films with his verdict that most of them are ‘crap’ (in a feature article for The Observer). Such is the lacklustre state of public discourse about film culture in this country that the article sparked nary a whimper in response. Did all of Solomons's readers simply shrug in resigned agreement? Where were the dissenting voices? Maybe he has has a point, after all.
October, November and December
Autumn greeted a new study of the European video on demand market, published by the European Audiovisual Observatory. The Observatory came up trumps again later in the year with publication of a detailed report into the Russian film business, prepared by Nevafilm and Rfilms (my Find of the Year #7)
A little late in the year, perhaps, for a silly season story, but news broke in November of a study estimating Kate Winslet’s financial value to the UK economy. We learned the actress is worth roughly £60 million to UK plc. If push comes to shove and the recession bites any deeper, I wonder how much we’d get for her on Ebay?
Better late than never, in December I finally found time to write up details of my favourite film-related infographics, an area of endeavour I plan to return to again in the coming year. There are many talented and generous people producing and freely sharing these fine works, and collectively they make my Find of the Year #8.
So there you have it, 2009 done and dusted. I look forward to welcoming you back in 2010.