For the first time ever, Internet platforms have overtaken DVDs for distributing the largest number of “awards screeners” to industry professionals voting for year-end accolades. This post gives a breakdown analysis of the various streaming and download formats, with iTunes and Vimeo battling for the top position while fending off smaller rivals.
With the movie awards season upon us, Hollywood studios and independent distributors are fighting to get their films seen by the voting members of AMPAS (the Oscars), BAFTA, HFPA (Golden Globes) and the various film professional guilds (DGA, WGA, SAG, et al). Though studios prefer voting members to see their films in cinemas, the reality is that many will have to watch them at home on so-called “screeners”, particularly given the glut of prestigious films released towards the end of the year. Traditionally this has meant sending out VHS tapes (in the 90s) and ultimately DVDs, which tend to have embedded watermarks that are either visible (‘This DVD screener is the property of Studio X and not to be re-distributed’) or invisible (identifying the voting member it was sent to via a unique code).
The cost of sending out thousands of DVDs to the various voting members can be enormous, even for big distributors, particularly if they are individually watermarked. For films released earlier in the year commercial DVDs are often used, but recent releases like “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” need to be individually watermarked so they can be traced back to whom it was sent, in case this version is ripped and uploaded to the Internet, as has occurred in the past. Various attempts at new technology has been tried, such as Dolby’s encrypted DVD Cinea format, which involved sending a modified DVD player to each voting member of BAFTA and AMPAS. While working technically, it proved too cumbersome for voters who were often away from home over the holiday and couldn’t watch the encrypted DVDs on regular DVD players while traveling. Some studios have also begun sending Blu-Ray discs, with Warner Bros. first and Universal Pictures following last year.
This year Internet distribution has emerged as the cost-effective method preferred by smaller distributors, with many turning to streaming or downloading as the best way to catch the eye of voting members, at least in this case those of BAFTA, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.