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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Spiller

The Transformation of Film Distribution: Insights from the 2023 Cannes Film Festival

Updated: Dec 31


A group of photographers on the red carpet at Cannes
Photographers on the red carpet at Cannes

In a digital age where the notion of cinema is being redefined, the 2023 Cannes Film Festival served as a platform for industry players to discuss the evolving landscape of film distribution.


Power of Streaming


Renowned producer Laura Wu of "Titan Pictures" discussed how streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ had gained prominence in distribution. "The power of streaming is unquestionable. It has brought films to a global audience, breaking barriers of geography," Wu said. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced people worldwide into lockdowns, streaming services saw a boom that cemented their position in the industry. It showed that cinema could adapt and thrive amidst challenges.


The Demise of Theaters?


However, streaming has created tensions between traditional and digital distribution methods. Iconic film director Guillermo del Toro expressed concern about the risks of shifting entirely toward online platforms. "While we cannot deny the convenience and reach of streaming services, we must remember the communal experience of cinema and its unique storytelling possibilities," he noted. Del Toro's sentiment echoed through the festival, as many feared that an overreliance on streaming platforms might erode the cultural significance of theaters.


The Benefits of Streaming


On the other side of the spectrum, Hannah Kim, a content strategist at Amazon Prime Video, spoke about the benefits of streaming platforms. "Not only do these platforms democratize film distribution, but they also provide filmmakers a chance to take risks and experiment without the immediate pressure of box office numbers," she stated. Indeed, streaming platforms have facilitated access to a broader array of content, allowing niche and independent films to find an audience.


Rahul Bose, an Indian actor and producer, highlighted how digital platforms revolutionized film distribution in countries with significant rural populations. "In India, for example, physical distribution has always been challenging due to infrastructural limitations. However, with the proliferation of smartphones and affordable internet, we can now reach audiences we couldn't before," he explained. Bose's perspective sheds light on the global impact of digital distribution and how it reduces disparities in access to cinematic content.


Nevertheless, the debate on revenue models was a prominent theme at the festival. Film financier Julia Michaels pointed out the complex financial structures of streaming services. "A film's success can no longer be measured simply by box office earnings. Streaming platforms have different models – subscriptions, advertisements, and pay-per-view. Producers and filmmakers must navigate this new territory to ensure profitability," she asserted.


Concerns about Algorithm-Driven Content


A panel of independent filmmakers also raised concerns about algorithm-driven content recommendations on streaming platforms. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo highlighted, "There's a risk of creative homogenization. Algorithms may promote more of the same type of content, based on viewers' past behavior, thereby limiting exposure to diverse, original content."


A Hybrid Approach to Film Distribution


Despite the concerns, some industry players saw hope in hybrid distribution models. Christine Vachon, producer and co-founder of Killer Films, praised the potential of such models. "What we need is a system that embraces both streaming and theatres, a model that can adapt to changing consumer needs and behaviors," she proposed.


The 2023 Cannes Film Festival was a celebration of the art of cinema and a timely discussion about the industry's future. It is clear from the myriad voices at the festival that the film distribution landscape is in the midst of a dramatic transformation, one that presents both immense opportunities and significant challenges. The consensus seems to be the pursuit of balance: leveraging digital platforms' global reach while preserving traditional cinema's magic. The festival left attendees with a sense that the future of film distribution is not a choice between digital or physical but rather a hybrid of both, thus preserving the cultural heritage of cinema while adapting to the demands of the digital age.


A perspective that stood out was from Nicolas Seydoux, Chairman and CEO of Gaumont, one of the oldest film companies in the world. Seydoux posited, "Rather than seeing streaming and theaters as competing entities, we should consider them as complementary pieces of a broader cinematic ecosystem." He argued that the coexistence of multiple distribution methods increases the accessibility of films and allows the audience to choose their preferred viewing experience.


The Role of Festivals


Notably, the festival also highlighted the role of film festivals themselves in the distribution process. Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, emphasized, "Festivals are now playing a dual role. Not only do they promote and celebrate the art of cinema, but they also provide a platform for films to secure distribution deals." In this context, festivals can serve as a springboard for independent films to gain recognition and eventually be picked up by distribution companies, whether traditional or digital.


The Rise of Virtual Reality


The festival also unveiled novel technological advancements that could shape the future of film distribution. Oscar-winning VFX artist Tim Webber discussed the rise of virtual and augmented reality and their potential to revolutionize film viewing experiences. "These technologies could create a whole new distribution channel, where audiences can immerse themselves in cinematic worlds like never before," Webber speculated.


The 2023 Cannes Film Festival, thus, provided a rich, thought-provoking discourse on the current state and future trajectory of film distribution. The industry is at a pivotal juncture, facing both opportunities and challenges. The future will likely see a fusion of traditional and digital methods, creating a diverse ecosystem catering to varying audience preferences.


Conclusion


The core takeaway is an industry evolving and embracing change, but at the same time, striving to maintain the unique, collective experience that cinema provides. The resilience and adaptability that the industry has shown recently, as emphasized by the discussions at the Cannes Festival, are promising signs of an exciting future for film distribution worldwide. As the curtains fell on the festival, the central narrative was one of evolution, transformation, and a future that seemed to hold a seat for everyone.



Spiller Law is an advisor to startup businesses, entertainment and media companies, and artists. Feel free to schedule a free consultation.



 

Spiller Law is a San Francisco business, entertainment, and estate planning law firm. We serve clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and California. Feel free to arrange a free consultation using the Schedule Appointment link on our website. For other questions, call our offices at 415-991-7298.

 

The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers are advised to consult with their legal counsel for specific advice.



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