Funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council under the “Digital Transformations” scheme, World Cinema On-Demand is a networking research project that aims to investigate the impact of streaming services on World cinema distribution, consumption and teaching.
In recent years a number of media organisations (including LoveFilm, Netflix and MUBI) have made available on-demand – via streaming video – an extensive range of cinema drawn from diverse world film cultures. These services have made an unprecedented array of international films available to both film enthusiasts and casual viewers, with the likes of Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers, Dreyer’s Vampyr, and Sokurov’s Mother and Son being offered for instant, streamed viewing alongside recent Hollywood blockbusters, often for a monthly subscription.
While theatrical distribution seems to be more and more narrowed, focusing on a limited number of films, streaming services need a growing heterogeneous offer of contents in order to compete in the contemporary audiovisual landscape and to survive.
Thus, streaming media platforms have evidently enabled the distribution of an unprecedented range of international films, in turn transforming the ways in which viewers access, engage with, and perceive the global cinematic landscape.
While the social and cultural ramifications of streaming media have been addressed in heterogeneous ways within a range of disciplines there are few sustained research on the implications these platforms have for the study of world cinema, particularly in H.E. film studies contexts. Therefore, the aim of this research network is to bring together academics, educators, and industry professionals to explore, from both theoretical and practical perspectives, the teaching and research potential of this emerging form of film distribution.
In particular, the network aims to explore the possibility of partnerships between HEIs and media companies in order to increase the availability and affordability of access to video-on-demand (VOD) services for teachers, researchers, and students of world cinema. Accessibility has always been a crucial factor in the teaching of film and media studies.
However, attempts by universities in the US to implement student access to VOD websites have had a series of repercussion in relation to copyright legislation (with a notable case arising at the University of California, Los Angeles, where the Chief Academic Technology Officer, Jim Davis, led the defense for the University’s use of streaming video. Thus, any attempt to incorporate the streaming of copyrighted material into university teaching requires careful co-operation and negotiation between HEIs, copyright holders, and relevant media companies, and it is one of the aims of this project to initiate a dialogue between these parties.
Moreover, the existence of streaming media represents an unprecedented challenge to the disciplines of film and media studies themselves, forcing us to reconsider both theoretical issues in relation to the now vast array of film texts available to us, as well the more pragmatic question of how we equip ourselves to fully engage with, and understand, these modes of distribution and circulation. Recently Rick Altman examined this issue, considering the viability of ‘film studies’ in a ‘post-film’ media era. He maintains:
“Increasingly, our task thus involves training students to handle the plethora of materials that the Internet offers (a task for which we are ill-prepared, I would note, because our own film education stressed cinematic specificity rather than methods for handling the extraordinary variety of materials now available with a few keystrokes (2009, 131).”
Thus, a further aim of this research network is to ensure that academics and HEIs do not end-up “ill- prepared” in the face of the massive transformations of film distribution, circulation, and consumption instigated by the phenomenon of streaming video and the Internet in general, an ill-preparedness that would risk leaving the discipline of film studies lagging behind the growing fields of digital and new media studies, in terms of its engagement with the real-world impact of changing mediascapes on film distribution and consumption.
Altman, Rick. “Whither Film Studies (In a Post-Film Studies World)?” In Focus: SCMS at Fifty. Cinema Journal, 49, no. 1 (Fall 2009): 131–135.