The Blog

How On-Demand Is Changing the UK Film Industry

Though it's still business as usual for the UK film industry, changing audience demographics, tax reliefs, on-demand streaming and funding strategies are changing the day-to-day process of the way films are made and consumed in the UK.

Although it's still business as usual for the UK film industry, changing audience demographics, tax reliefs, on-demand streaming and funding strategies are changing the day-to-day process of the way films are made and consumed in the UK.

You only need to look across the pond to our American cousins to see the shape of things to come. This September's Emmys see two Netflix original series nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, and nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series see the creators of the much-talked-about Orange Is The New Black battle it out against rivals Amazon Prime. The on demand model, where entire series are released in one day ripe for binge watching, is catching on - and quickly.

Streaming channels are increasingly giving TV a run for its money. Netflix announced earlier this month that it was not renewing its deal with movie provider Epix in order to fund more original content, Now TV means you can get Sky without the contract and even the BBC's Tony Hall is contemplating a re-vamped iPlayer.

Whilst these shifts may be more focused on series and shorter programmes, feature-length films of all varieties are not immune to the Netflix effect. In the last few months alone, Netflix have cut deals with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for their next films (War Machine and First They Killed My Father respectively), paying $60m for Pitt alone. Prior to this, they had wrapped up a multi-picture deal with Adam Sandler.

Take funding, for example. Financing the kind of feature-length documentaries that I produce has been a tried and tested process of gaining funds from various different sources that often takes years to piece together, meaning the boundary between the development process and production is hard to define.

A producer works with the director to create a package which will include a trailer that will then attract development funds from film bodies and investors. That money will be used to film more material that can be cut into a longer taster, which hopefully attracts enough funding to finish the film. If the full budget isn't raised, a producer may have to guarantee to deliver the film to financiers whilst continuing to raise production money well into the edit.

On-demand streaming services have begun to change that process. Netflix's deep pockets mean that if they are investing in a film, its producer is only looking at one to two funding avenues, rather than the traditional six or seven. Netflix may take the SVOD window across the world, which then limits the amount of additional territories a producer can sell to, but it also means far less time securing finance, therefore the producer can go into production much sooner.

This has completely changed the environment in which independent film companies and filmmakers are operating. The prevalence of online streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime could start an independent film renaissance. They have already transformed the TV landscape. With large pieces of funding easier to secure, more independent films could get made, meaning more routes into the industry for young filmmakers.

With every silver lining, however, comes a cloud. This model could well collapse in on itself if these services begin to go the way of the big Hollywood studios, searching for risk-free ready-made audiences rather than going out on a limb and creating new ones.

It is for this reason that we are seeing so many sequels and remakes at the moment; do the new Dad's Army and The Man From U.N.C.L.E films ring any bells? It is infinitely easier to get financing for films that come with built-in audiences. At least then you can guarantee that people will go to see them due to brand association and nostalgia. Any extras you get along are an added bonus.

Whilst great for lining the pockets of studios, this model isn't so great for the production of varied and original content. This is why the UK independent film sector has, in my opinion, never been more important. We need to think about what it is we want from our films in future. Blockbusters have their place, and entertaining the masses is no mean feat. But we need to remember what film, like any art form, initially set out to do; provoke and challenge.

Hopefully the Reed Hastings and Jeff Bezos of the world will continue to support fresh and original content, without needing to sacrifice it for the purposes of reach and subscribers.

Film has long been a tool for change, an art form, a societal barometer, and a medium for escapism, as well as a method of entertainment. Most importantly, it is part of our cultural heritage, and, regardless of the platform we view it on, we should strive to ensure it will continue to challenge, question and provoke for many years to come.

Al Morrow is the producer of How to Change the World, a critically acclaimed, award-winning documentary that tells the story of the beginnings of Greenpeace and the modern eco-movement. Graduates from Met Film School were involved in the film's production, which was carried out by Met Film Production.