The human race will be analyzing how the advent of the Internet and the digital revolution changed the world for the next hundred years. It’s impacted just about every aspect of our daily lives, from social communication to business to entertainment, in ways we’re still trying to understand.
We’re in the midst of another big changeover right now, made possible by a relatively recent development in the world of digital media: HD video streaming.
DVDs and Downloads
We bloggers of the world have already expended millions of words on how streaming video services have changed the world: how Netflix grew from a mail-rental startup to a multimedia monster that posted a mindboggling 66 percent increase subscriptions last year. How social media has changed the way movies are marketed and the nature of modern celebrity. However, one particular change in how we interact with our entertainment began a little earlier, with the release of the DVD in 1997.
While an average VHS tape was just about the right length for an average Hollywood release, a two hour movie still left space to spare on a DVD. To fill the space, production companies started including extras: deleted scenes, gag reels, and behind the scenes footage as an extra bonus for buying the DVD. Before DVDs became the default format, director’s cuts and behind the scenes footage were rarities sought out mostly by aficionados. But the birth of the DVD extra sparked a cultural interest in the nitty gritty; the making-of process, which represented a change in how we relate to movies and the people who make them.
Social Media and San Diego
Our growing interest in the making-of content reflects something mass media has been slowly discovering about Millennials, our first generation of digital natives: they’re almost immune to traditional advertising. Millennials don’t respond to traditional life goals, brands, or idolized celebrities, they respond to people-lumpy, imperfect, real people. That extends to movie marketing too: modern audiences like hearing about how the costumes were made, about cameras breaking down and bored actors entertaining themselves on set. If they’re excited for a movie, they’ll follow the entire cast on Twitter and talk about them not as idols or celebrities, but as friends.
That love of familiarity is why the San Diego Comic Con and the legendary Hall H panels are now, for all intents and purposes, the Superbowl Sunday of movie advertising. SDCC draws 125,000 people annually, and 6,000 of them pack Hall H every year for the big entertainment announcements and the chance to interact with the people they like: seeking out “behind the scenes” live. In years past, the traditional debut for many movies was the festival circuit, culminating at Sundance: an event mainly for industry professionals or serious aficionados with the money to travel.
HD Streaming and the New Q&A
In the early years, SDCC panels and the Sundance Q&As before them were treated much like Broadway shows: something that shouldn’t be recorded, that should only exist between the performers and the audience who were physically there. But now, once again the prevailing mindset is beginning to change.
Not everyone can attend Comic Con or get a ticket to Sundance, and the industry organizers of these events are beginning to look for ways to reach out to those who can’t make it. Professionally recorded panels are common now, made available online for fans to help build excitement and word of mouth. For the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, the organizers went a step further, with the help of HD video streaming and a service called Blue Jeans. Already a popular video conferencing platform, Blue Jeans and its new service Primetime partnered with Sundance to make director Q&A's more accessible than ever before. Primetime isn’t just a static broadcast: it’s an interactive service that lets viewers raise a virtual hand, and lets a moderator call on them to answer their question. Maybe not quite as good as being there in person, but miles ahead of watching a recording a week later.
“We reach a lot of people though our programs, but we want to get to the point where you're not limited by geography to be able to enjoy what we provide,” tech officer Dave Ginsberg explained.
The Future of the Festivals
Sundance is clearly ahead of the cultural curve, with SDCC right behind it. Gone are the days that director Q&A’s and behind the scenes trivia were a rare event for a niche fan base. We live in a world where technology has the power to give anyone access to the stories and creators they love, and we take advantage of that access whenever possible.
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