Open Rights Group: Online film market ‘dysfunctional’

UK-based digital activist body the Open Rights Group (ORG) has released research on the availability of film online, which it suggests indicates a dysfunctional market place that leaves consumers with the digital equivalent of empty shelves. The findings showed:

– Excluding iTunes, only 27 per cent of the BAFTA Best Film award-winning films from 1960 to 2011 are available to rent or buy online, with only 29 per cent of the 50 best British films.
– Only 6 per cent of the best 50 best British films are on Film4 OD or Virgin Media. 14 per cent are available through a LOVEFiLM subscription and 4 per cent through pay per view on LOVEFiLM.
– Including iTunes, still only 43 per cent of the top 50 British films can be bought or rented online, with the figure at 58 per cent for the BAFTA Best Film award winners.
– As well as problems with availability, prices online do not compare favourably with DVDs:
– For the best selling DVDs from August 2011, the average price on Amazon.co.uk was £6.80. For iTunes purchases, of the films available through its service, the average price was £8.88. For blinkbox purchases the price stood at £9.49.
– DVD prices at Amazon.co.uk for the BAFTA winning films average at £5.84, whilst on iTunes the average price stands at £6.72

In the US, DVD sales fell 20 per cent in the first quarter of 2011. Presuming a decline in physical media sales, shifts towards digital consumption and device ‘convergence’, the ORG suggests that the availability of a broad digital catalogue of works at least comparable to that available on physical media will be vital in sustaining a buoyant film industry.

Furthermore it argues that if the goal for policy makers is cultural markets that thrive in the digital age, consumers’ demand must be satisfied online. “Clearly this is not yet happening. This must take precedence over damaging new copyright enforcement measures. The proportionality and necessity of enforcement can only be considered in a situation in which there is a compelling offering of legal services and a healthy market environment,” says the ORG.

“There are obvious deficiencies in the licensing for cultural goods online,” said Peter Bradwell, campaigner at the ORG. This is crippling the market just as consumers are increasingly showing a desire to watch film in new ways. Consumers are moving online faster than the industry whose films they want to watch. Understanding why these markets are so unhealthy must be a key focus for policy makers,” he declared.

To conduct the research, four film lists were used:

1. The top 50 films from Time Out London magazine’s 100 Best British Films
2. BAFTA Best Film award winners (1960-2011)
3. Amazon.co.uk’s 20 best-selling DVDs as of 1 July 2011
4. Amazon.co.uk’s 40 best-selling DVDs for August 2011

For each film, five content providers were searched: (iTunes, LOVEFiLM, blinkbox, Film4 OD, and Virgin Media) and one film listing service (Findanyfilm). Box sets and TV shows were excluded from the comparison of the Amazon.co.uk lists. For the recent best-sellers lists, HD results were included.

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