When Technology Wins

Using innovation to support the cinema industry

Posted by Matt Heason on Dec 10, 2020

I've written a bit lately about the fact that I love technology. Sure it can be a bane at times, and I do like to strip things back and go for a run in a pair of shoes, some shorts and a vest as well, but when technology can really enhance something I'm all for it. When Covid hit early this year and ShAFF was cancelled it was obvious that things were going to change, and change they did.


Since March we've seen an explosion in online delivery of films, talks, webinars, conferences and festivals and an associated proliferation of companies looking for niches in how to deliver these things. Zoom, Netflix, Amazon Prime and the usual digital giants like Google, Microsoft and Apple have been the big winners that are now essential parts of our working and every day lives. But there are other companies who have sat back and noted the cracks the bug guns have missed.


A feature of these big guns is the perceived imbalance between the  vast sums of money they are bringing in versus the amount they are paying back into society, and the cut-throat way they are going about it. I say perceived as this piece is not about the social injustice credentials of Amazon or the take home pay of Jeff Bezos. That's a behemoth of a subject which I am willing to act on on an individual basis, but don't feel knowledgeable or qualified enough to opine on it here.


This piece is actually about a few technological start-ups who have spotted the above-mentioned cracks, and are also addressing the social imbalance at the same time. Firstly, and briefly, there's www.bookshop.org. As you'd expect, this started up in the US, but it arrived here in the UK this Autumn. It's effectively an online bookshop 'to rival Amazon' but constructed out of a web of physical bricks and mortar bookshops who have signed up to work collectively. The idea is actually really simple. You buy a book and a portion of the sale price is paid back to the actual bookshops, reinstating this crucial link in the chain that traditional online retailers like Amazon have skipped out. 


The other example I want to help raise the profile of is https://www.modernfilms.com. For the last half dozen years or so as Netflix, Amazon Prime and the other streaming giants have become such dominant forces the big worry has been that actual cinemas will lose out. A year ago this was a genuine worry. Right now, with cinemas across the world closed, studios holding back their releases or even going straight to streaming, and no clear way out of the situation, things are down right scary for the cinema industry. At ShAFF we've always shouted about the collective experience of sitting in a cinema and watching, laughing, holding our breath, and clapping - together. Streaming doesn't do that. Thumbs up icons and positive reviews are all well and good, but literally nothing beats being together. Cinemas need to ride this tsunami of devastation and come out the other side intact. If we've learnt nothing else from nearly a year of social distancing, it's that we are social creatures and we need to be close to one another.


Modern Films' take on the situation is akin to Bookshop.org. It's a streaming platform just like the rest of them, but their financial model includes the cinemas rather than leaving them out of the loop. It actually goes a step further, engaging with cinemas who want to, giving them their own online shop window from which to sell their films to their own audiences, earning a cut of the sales. This is a fundamental difference to Netflix and Amazon who have embraced big data to compile their own marketing strategies and sell what they think individuals want to watch. Modern's approach is handing back a good portion of that control to the individuals. Sign up as a member to your local cinema and they will market the films that they think you will like to you. You're then seeing content that has been curated by people you share values rather than algorithms you may not. Rent the films and the cinema will earn a

cut. It puts more control back in the hands of the viewer to choose what they want to watch and how they want to spend their money. It's more ethical all around.


What's really exciting about Modern's approach is that because it's virtual it isn’t necessarily limited to physical cinemas. It can create an online shop window for a film club, a community group, a school, or even a brand - essentially anything with a dedicated following who are keen to help navigate these rough times and support proactively. 


This week ShAFF On Tour will launch at independent cinemas around the country, showing a programme of this year's best adventure films (details here). Many of those cinemas are currently shut, but with Modern Films they can still operate, and importantly, earn an income.  We're also working on those other groups and hope to be able to share news of them too. If you are interested in talking to us about getting involved then please drop us a line.

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