There are two approaches that industries take in order to counter disruptive technology: protectionist and innovationist. The film industry seems to be taking the latter approach and, in turn, gives hope for a healthy and greener horizon.
The film industry is synonymous with some big-name innovation. With 1,093 patents to his name, Thomas Edison still holds the world record for the most patents held by any single individual. One such invention was the Kinetoscope, a precursor to modern video and film. In Edison's words, this device would "do for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear". The first example of a Kinetoscope in action is a film titled "Strongman Sandow" (circa: 1890).
The digital age has proven to be a challenge to all industries, including film. However, as compared to other content-driven industries (like music and print), the box office has fared relatively well over the past years. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, North American box office revenues reached $10.6 billion in 2009, up 10.1% over 2008, and up 20.3% over five years ago.
As advanced as home theatre technology has become, the cinema experience is something that only multimillion-dollar multiplexes can currently provide. Maintaining an innovative edge in terms of content delivery and production technology has been key to the industry's preservation. Presently, you just can't see "Avatar" in its full glory at home. As it turns out, a whopping 11% of the box office was attributed solely to such 3-D showings in 2009.
Having watched an overnight implosion of some content industries in the digital age, you might think that moving to digital technology for distribution and display purposes would threaten the film industry. In fact, though, digitization is being adopted at an astronomic (literally) scale, and could be the key to its future expansion worldwide.
Presently, satellite delivery networks facilitate the majority of digital distribution for film. According to Brett Marks of Cinedigm, "10 - 15% of movie deliveries are made via satellite and this percentage is rapidly growing in tandem with the growth of digital cinema."
For an industry whose carbon footprint is equal to the hospitality industry, the move from traditional film reels to digital is not trivial.
"For almost 100 years the only way movies made it from Hollywood back to the studio, to another movie theater and then back to the studio again was via plane, train and truck," according to Marks. "Not to mention the thousands of gallons of chemicals required to manufacture the film."
Despite all fears related to digital, industry analysts believe that growth will depend largely on increased digital adoption in countries like India, (currently the largest producer of feature films in the world with over double the number of films produced as in the U.S.). Eliminating barriers to distribution is seen by experts as the way of the future in other words.
Indeed, by reducing transport and material costs and modifying licensing restrictions, the entire industry could explode by moving to a more pervasive distribution model, while maintaining a low carbon footprint.
Smaller theatres in remote areas of developing countries suddenly could be brought into the fold at a rate unseen in the past, but without the usual environmental problems associated with development.
As the technology becomes more accessible and affordable (something film's inventor was famous for achieving with the notorious light bulb), perhaps one day "Avatar"-like viewing experiences could occur elsewhere than at your nearest suburb.