Technology & Innovation

Film's new horizons

June 10, 2022


Film's new horizons

June 10, 2022

Matt Terry

Senior analyst, policy and insights

Matt Terry is a senior analyst on the policy and insights team at Economist Impact. He is a quantitative economist by training and specializes in developing custom modeling and forecasting scenarios and designing policy assessment frameworks. His areas of focus include longevity, infrastructure, technology and innovation. Matt has recently led research initiatives across programs such as the Longevity Economy® Outlook, the Infrascope index for infrastructure PPPs, and the intangible economy of Ontario. He holds a master's degree in economic policy from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and also has a background in journalism and editing.

As the 2022 Cannes festival wraps its first full event since the pandemic, and audiences venture back into cinemas, the film industry is crossing its fingers for a sustained recovery of in-person events and viewing. A strong slate of new movies recently hitting the cinema, including Top Gun, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Downton Abbey: A New Era, will, the industry hopes, get audience numbers back to or above their pre-pandemic levels. Cinema ad sales in the UK are set to exceed those of the pre-pandemic era this year.

Meanwhile, the precipitous fall in the share price of Netflix—the stock dropped by over 70% in the last six months—also indicates a rebalancing of the industry from its pandemic swings, when streaming and on-demand platforms dominated. Now, the physical world of film—cinemas and festivals—and the digital realm are in a state of creative co-existence.

Video-on-demand (VOD) and streaming have been a clear boon for the European film industry’s reach. State broadcasters like BBC iPlayer were jostling for audiences as early as 2007, the dawn of the era. With the digital shift, European filmmakers have gained access to global audiences in ways never possible before, especially for non-English content from smaller markets.

At the same time, the continent’s independent film sector wants a revamp of commercial terms between producers and broadcasters. The European Producers Club has issued a code of fair practices including proportionate revenue sharing and fairer allocation of rights ownership. Meanwhile, as broadcasters launch their own streaming platforms, the hunt for the best content has become existential. Streaming and VOD platforms thrive when the independent film sector is able to produce a diverse variety of films to satisfy an equally diverse audience.

In the festival space, a mutually beneficial co-existence of film and technology is emerging, not only allowing new cinema to reach critical acclaim and international audiences, but also supplying abundant networking benefits. As in-person formats now return and hybrid festivals take a more permanent hold, the virtual film experiments of lockdown have delivered meaningful gains.

In its 2021 virtual festival, Sundance reached an audience 2.7 times larger than its usual crowd that descends annually on the Utah resort town. Other festival organisers have also stepped up their inclusivity efforts in ways that could stick; the Toronto International Film Festival, for example, invested in closed captioning and audio descriptions as part of a growing focus on inclusive digital experience.

Going forward, digital innovation and digital platforms have the potential to help democratise the industry, enabling access across a new generation of filmmakers for whom film production has often been out of reach. Artificial intelligence tools are slashing the time involved in burdensome processes like generating transcripts, analysing viewer behaviour and searching archives. Production technologies are also allowing smaller or resource-constrained teams to do more. Some filmmaker teams involved in Germany’s Berlinale film festival comprise just two or three people, which would have been impossible in years past.

Digital innovation can further help filmmakers cross borders by solving knotty problems like realistic dubbing. Germany’s Max Planck Institute and London-based neural network start-up Flawless, for example, are using AI to visually alter actors’ mouth movements, better synchronising them with dubbed translations, while platforms like and are exploring whether blockchain could help raise and disburse crowd-funding for independent and new filmmakers.

Both the new and old ways films are financed matter for future inclusivity efforts. Subsidies remain a core funding stream for the European film sector. Channelling more of them to scriptwriters, rather than only production companies, could help bring more diversity to the crucial early stages of new films: the writing room.

To read more Economist Impact analysis about the past, present and future of the film industry, .

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