How the Internet has Changed Movies

November 9, 2011

For years, most studios and filmmakers looked on the internet as the biggest enemy of movies. That’s because of film piracy. You read all the time of a hit movie suddenly appearing online. But those pirates are getting caught and sentenced – most recently a 28-year-old man who made an illegal copy of “The Love Guru” and put it online; and a man accused of downloading “Wolverine” has an indictment against him. So the studios are still vigilant, but they’ve become internet-friendly.

Now the studios are trying to find out how to make the internet work for them. First, it’s a great promotional tool. Every film has its own site now, with clips, bios, behind-the-scenes featurettes and press information. But how can they actually make money from the web?

Good question. Some of the TV networks have put their shows online for free – you just have to watch some ads on or at the network’s own sites like But apparently that’s not enough, because there’s word that Hulu is going to start charging for shows.

But putting movies online is another thing entirely. Because it seems like right now people don’t want to watch a big feature on their tiny little computer screen. The success of big movies like “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes” makes the case – people will still pay for the theatrical experience. Some sites do buy features and shorts for their sites, sometimes paying as much as $100,000. But that’s peanuts to the big studios. So at the moment, they don’t have a way to make the web work for them.

What the internet has done is affect the style of films. There’s no way a feature like “Paranormal Activity” could have been a hit if people weren’t used to watching that kind of shaky-cam footage on the web. Maybe they don’t want to watch a whole feature online, but they’ll pay to watch that kind of footage in theaters! Go figure.

What has really changed the movie business is the fact that everyone with a camera can put their footage online. So there’s no need to fight to try to sell your short or your movie to a distributor so it’ll show in theaters or on television. It’s a great place for new filmmakers to get a start and to get themselves noticed. But they can’t make any money from it.

For the film studios right now, the internet is just a big promotional tool to get you to go to the theaters or watch their DVD’s. John Geyer, VP of Marketing at CustomFlix, tells Moviemaker: "I'd compare [the introduction of the Internet] to when the VCR was introduced. Everyone thought theaters would shortly be out of business. As we all know, the opposite happened—there was a resurgence of interest in the art form and more people flocked to theaters than ever before. Likewise, the Internet has spurred a huge growth in video sales."

Until movies online can be encoded with some kind of chip that makes your credit card pay for them while you watch, it doesn’t look like the web will be the place to watch films for now. But eventually we’ll probably watch everything from our computer, attached to that bigscreen TV in our home.

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