The Blog

A 30th Birthday Wish for Film in All Its Formats

The 16th September 1985 was a landmark moment for British film fans.

Thirty years ago today, film went on sale on our high streets for the first time ever. It was available to enjoy in VHS format and sold by that great British retail innovator, Woolworths. It offered us the chance to take our love of the movies to a whole new level. We never looked back.

VHS was just the start of an upward trend for film formats that fit around our busy lives. Today DVDs are our favourite way to own: UK shoppers bought more than 125m of them in 2014 according to BVA research. Then alongside cinema nights out, there's 3D Blu-ray for cinema nights in and an explosion of digital services for everything in-between.

Thanks to the choice and value on offer, we're consuming more film and TV, in more ways, than ever before. It's a trend that's having a significant and growing halo effect on our economy. In fact, earlier this year a report by the BFI found that UK screen content generates more than £6bn per year for the UK economy. It also creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But the sector's continued success and contribution is not without its challenges - and perhaps the most pressing of these is the shape-shifting problem of piracy. Once the domain of the young, male film fan, today that picture is changing - fast.

As film fans of all ages try out the new digital formats on offer, the demographic of those accessing illegal content is diversifying. Our tracking studies show an uplift in the number of women starting to watch content illegally, as well as in the number of older people - the parents and even grandparents of the typical "internet pirate".

The findings paint a bleak picture. Are so many of us, of all ages, now comfortable to take something for nothing? So ready to reset our moral compasses when faced with the promise of 'free' and easy entertainment online? If this is the case, then based on the rate of internet adoption and broadband penetration, surely it won't take long for such an alternative value system to have a crippling effect on the UK film industry - and its economic contribution.

But perhaps all is not as bleak as it first appears. Ofcom's latest study reveals that confusion could be proving one very significant catalyst for piracy, especially among those just starting to experiment with online viewing. It found that four in 10 UK adults consuming content online feel uncertain about whether that content is legal or not.

The research points to the pressing need to support film fans in making legal choices as they migrate their viewing online. To this end, we have just revamped the industry's film and TV search engine, to make it even easier for film fans to find the content they love legally - and in any format they choose.

Our own research and experience at The Industry Trust also reveals the positive potential of raising awareness of the value of copyright and the creativity it underpins, even in the face of the new, moral digital dilemma. Our Moments Worth Paying Forcampaign seeks to reconnect audiences with the idea that film has an inherent creative value worth respecting. Tracking studies reveal that those exposed to the campaign are up to twice as likely to support legal content as those not exposed to it. The results suggest that film fans still care about content, but need to be reminded of its value in an age when so much information is so readily available for free.

Our latest Moments Worth Paying For trailer will make such a reminder by celebrating Pathè's upcoming British title, Suffragette - the first ever feature film to tell the story of women's fight to vote. The trailer aims to inspire film fans that it's a storytelling experience worth respecting, whether that's by parting with the price of a cinema ticket next month, or paying for a disc or digital format thereafter from their favourite retailer. It all counts.

Indeed, at thirty years old today it's arguably the retail sector that has to work hardest to win in the face of piracy. The significant majority of piracy takes place once titles have hit the shop shelves. But illegal websites operate with no regard for or contribution towards the sector - or for the filmmakers themselves.

So as we celebrate film's 30th anniversary on the high street this week I'll be making a birthday wish for another successful and action-packed three decades- and hoping that British film fans vote to play their part.