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Digital convergence is old news for anyone who lays eyes on the rapidly-multiplying number of screens that are now such a ubiquitous part of our everyday life. But it is only now that the global film industry finds itself on the cusp of a period of massive, disruptive change due to these technological developments.

We have seen the digitisation of content completely reshape the music and publishing industries, taking out a large chunk of their respective profits along the way. Arguably that is because these industries were initially so resistant to the changes being heralded by the rise of digital consumption.

By the end of 2012, practically 100 per cent of films will be digitally distributed in the UK.

While the film industry has also felt significant effects from these developments—it goes without saying that piracy remains a huge problem—the shift to purely digital transmission has been slowed somewhat by the sheer size of the product. This has given the industry precious extra time to come to terms with the fully-converged world, and figure out how to make money from it.

By the end of 2012, practically 100 per cent of films will be digitally distributed in the UK. This is sooner than expected, although we have known it was coming for a long time. There are skills implications across the film value chain that we need to grapple with now around distribution, projection and archiving. And there are obviously huge implications in terms of more flexible programming and the increased opportunity for more widespread distribution of smaller independent films.

An effective and well-targeted skills strategy is the best way for us to future-proof our industry

With 90 per cent of the British population set to have access to super-fast broadband by 2015, the time to prepare for a fully-connected future is now. In this changing environment the importance of having a highly-skilled and dynamic workforce is paramount. In order to maintain the advantages that this affords, the industry must always be looking forward—identifying trends, needs, the ‘next big thing’—before they happen.

Of course this is the foundation for success in any business, and the argument for a strong focus on skills is inextricably linked to the business case for our industry. An effective and well-targeted skills strategy is the best way for us to future-proof our industry, to make sure that it is not just competitive, but a world leader in the brave new digital world. Skillset, as the lead organisation for the skill needs of the majority of the creative industries, is enormously well-placed to take the lead on this work.

One of the key needs for our industry as it adapts to these changes is to develop the business skills of our most talented creatives. A focus on innovation, and creating an environment where entrepreneurs can flourish, will help our filmmakers turn their best ideas into profitable business models, which will in turn drive further growth in our industry. This will allow our industry to lead, not follow.

In a world of digital convergence, it is important that future iterations of any film skills strategy sit within and reflect the changes that are happening in the broader creative industries. There are few businesses run profitably that focus solely on feature-film production. Business models are emerging that work across the creative industries. As Professor Ian Hargreaves noted in his recent report on IP and growth, changes to IP rights management will impact on the way people in the industries operate, create, distribute and monetise their content. These changes in practice will need to be supported by updating their knowledge and skills.

Social media now also plays an essential role in the marketing of films, and is something that is most effective when utilised right from the early stages of production, if not earlier. And in the move to digital files, how films are stored, archived and tagged becomes a crucial skills issue. Exploiting the metadata of a production will become steadily more important in attracting audiences when search and discovery is such a significant component of building a film’s profile. There is a huge task ahead to digitise back catalogues, so that IP owners can continue to generate revenues from them in a digital age.

Now more than ever, consumer behaviour is driving technological developments. The explosion in smart phones, and new mobile devices such as tablets, is revolutionising the consumption of digital film. As an industry, we need to understand how to take advantage of these new opportunities to connect product with consumers and build audiences more effectively than ever. Developments such as Internet-connected TV will create opportunities to deepen and enrich audience engagement with content and have the potential to significantly drive growth in video on demand. The latest major industry-wide development, Ultraviolet, which allows time- and place-shifting of content by agreeing on a common standard of digital file formats that can be played on any device, is slated to hit the US later this year, and the UK soon after that.

Digital developments are moving far too quickly for anyone to confidently predict the next big thing. But what is essential is that we are constantly reviewing, learning, and updating our practices so that we are ready to move and take advantage of new opportunities. We need to think globally and live in a state of constant innovation. I for one am genuinely excited by the possibilities that lie ahead, and as chair of Skillset’s Film Skills Council look forward to leading their work in this new era.

 

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