The Effects of Prosumer Technology
on Content Creation
By Mark Heidelberger
Prosumerism is driving a new revolution in the world of content creation. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, films in production jumped 73% worldwide between 2005 and 2015 – from just over 5,500 films to more than 9,500 – despite the consolidation of major motion picture studios and a systematic reduction of their slates. However, there’s more telling evidence that’s not buried in some statistic. Simply look at how expansive the content marketplace has become and, simultaneously, how accessible it is to those outside the studio system. Prosumer technology has afforded new and emerging independent filmmakers an opportunity that heretofore didn’t exist for them: telling their stories in a professional-looking way and then selling them to a global audience without the aid of a studio. That intersectionality of marketplace expansion and accessibility, driven by consumers’ insatiable appetite for content, has ignited a creative renaissance.
What exactly is prosumer content creation?
In his book “The Third Wave,” businessman and futurist Alvin Toffler defined prosumers as those who had a hand in creating some of the goods or services that they themselves were consuming. Whether manufacturing their own clothes, furniture, mobile apps or motion pictures, the prosumer movement is driven by consumers eager to participate in creating those items that affect their lives. As the industrial age gave way to the digital age, pioneering media companies began to realize advances in tech could afford industry outsiders access to professional-grade hardware and software that was previously out of reach. Without digitization, such a transformation could never have occurred at scale in such a short amount of time. In the last 20 years, the entertainment industry has witnessed the literal adoption of prosumer technology in every facet of the content creation chain, from development to distribution.
Visionaries like Marc Madnick and Ben Cahan realized as early as 1990 that the entertainment industry would benefit from a word-processing program that formatted screenplays to fit industry-standard guidelines. Alas, Final Draft was born. But more importantly, it was made available to the masses, giving novice writers access to scriptwriting formulae that had previously been obscured. Similar software soon followed suit along with scheduling and budgeting programs like Movie Magic and Showbiz, allowing amateur filmmakers the ability to easily draft a blueprint for their films that echoed the big studio format. Such programs have been wildly successful. According to research by Philip Kotler at Northwestern University, “Advancing technology, especially in computers and telecommunications, will tempt [people] to use their time in [new] ways… People will want to play a larger role in designing or producing certain goods and services they consume.”
Production and Post
Workflow software like StudioBinder, Gorilla and Scenechronize emerged to offer neophyte producers a comprehensive suite of fully integrated, cloud-based management tools, from call sheet templates to schedule-sharing to customizable shot lists. And post wasn’t far behind. Avid’s Pro Tools, Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Adobe Creative Suite allowed for high-quality audio mixing, audio editing, video editing and visual effects creation by filmmakers working on home computers. But digitization didn’t just manifest in the form of more accessible software. At the turn of the century, companies like Sony, Arri and RED were laying the groundwork for cost-effective digital cameras that would send Kodak, the world’s largest manufacturer of motion picture film, into bankruptcy by 2012. Six-figure Panavision film cameras monopolized by the majors were no longer the only game in town.
Marketing and Distribution
The proliferation of quality independent content meant a greater need for ways to disseminate it. Platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Youtube gave amateur artists ways to not only display their work, but also monetize it. Gamechangers like FilmHub materialized soon after, bringing the entire film distribution process online so that filmmakers could stream their content on multiple platforms in more than 100 markets worldwide without the onerous costs demanded by traditional distributors. According to the MPAA, theatrical box office decreased by two percent in 2017 while consumer spending on home entertainment increased 11 percent, driven almost solely by the growth of digital platforms. It therefore stands to reason that independent content creators, whose work is primarily found on such platforms, are a major contributor to that growth.
The Bottom Line
The propagation of prosumer technology will continue to drive the mass creation of content outside the studio system for the foreseeable future, especially in newer areas like AR, VR and interactive where digital innovation is hyper-prevalent. Moreover, burgeoning young adopters of prosumer tech will begin to eschew pricey film schools and instead seek out high-quality educational resources via blogs, YouTube, online masterclasses and the like, which not only allows them to keep current on technological advances in content development, production and distribution, but better embodies the very spirit of democratization driving the prosumer movement. “One of the major growth markets spurred by prosumption will be the instruction market,” says Kotler. “More people will want to acquire skills for producing their own goods and services.” As such, prosumer technology clearly offers an opportunity for greater artist empowerment.