The screen industry is in transition as distribution mechanisms converge and access points increasingly fragment. There is no better time to take stock of our audience and consider the best ways to ensure that Australian stories thrive on Australian screens in a period of rapid change.
In April 2011, Screen Australia released Beyond the Box Office. The report analyses patterns of screen media consumption in Australia, helping to understand shifts in media penetration and offering never-before-published insights into consumption of DVD/Blu-ray and online video.
Focusing initially on feature films, Screen Australia also released a new standardised audience metric, designed to evaluate the number of times a film is viewed across its first-release lifecycle. Modelling the slate of domestic features released since 2007 not only highlights the size of their total audience but also the propensity of some theatrical releases to find a proportionally higher number of viewers beyond the box office.
The research highlights five key issues.
1. The overwhelming trend of recent years has been the addition of new screen activities to old.
The proportion of people watching free-to-air and subscription television has remained steady over the last five years, while cinema and console gaming have slightly increased. Participation in DVD or Blu-ray video fell during this time, but online video has offset the fall.
2. There are warning signs that the ongoing strength of old screen activities should not be taken for granted.
Early adopters are driving change and free-to-air television has the most to lose. These people tend to be younger, innovative, interested in technology and want to experience life, believing they can 'have it all'. They have the highest participation rates across most screen activities, yet they are less likely to be watching free-to-air television than they were five years ago.
3. Gross revenues tell a vital, but incomplete, story about the performance of screen content.
Just as content makers need to adapt to changing audiences, so too do the methods of measuring success. Audience size needs to be considered alongside return on investment to ensure a more comprehensive understanding of performance. For Australian feature films, Screen Australia modelling indicates that box office admissions account for less than 10 per cent of all viewings.
4. The migration of video away from the purchase and rental of physical discs to online services presents an opportunity to better monetise the home entertainment market.
Despite a drop in participation rates, a large proportion of viewings is still occurring via DVD or Blu-ray video. In particular, the rental market accounts for the largest share of viewings for feature films released in Australia. This platform has typically offered low distribution returns, but as formats evolve, new opportunities may emerge for revenue- sharing with online aggregators.
5. The ubiquitous nature of television enables Australian feature films to be seen by more people in more areas across the country.
Box office is typically seen as the key determinant of downstream performance for Australian feature films. While this may hold true for video on DVD/Blu-ray or online, the same cannot be said for television. Below-average grossing films perform far better on television than their theatrical release would indicate.