History of Film: Film Distribution

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There were many changes in marketing and distribution of films from end of the silent period to the modern digital period. There was a studio system that existed at the end of the silent period and collapsed in 1949 with a court ruling. During this same time a sales era of marketing existed. After the Second World War the sales era was replaced with a new way of thinking and sales and marketing were not synonymous anymore. Marketing after World War II meant finding out what consumers’ needs and wants were and providing them with products to satisfy those needs and wants. Globalization began to occur rapidly in the 90’s and expansion in foreign market meant marketers had to concentrate on this market more than they had in the past. The digital period also meant changes of first runs and second runs for films. The studio system was a means of film production and distribution dominant in Hollywood from the early 1920s through the early 1950s. The term studio system refers to the practice of large motion picture studios (a) producing movies primarily on their own filmmaking lots with creative personnel under often long-term contract and (b) pursuing vertical integration through ownership or effective control of distributors and movie theaters, guaranteeing additional sales of films through manipulative booking techniques. A 1948 Supreme Court ruling against those distribution and exhibition practices hastened the end of the studio system. In 1954, the last of the operational links between a major production studio and theater chain was broken and the era of the studio system was officially dead. The period lasted from the introduction of sound to the court ruling and the beginning of the studio breakups; about 1927 to 1954, when the studios no longer participated in the theatre business. During the Golden Age, eight companies comprised the so-called major studios responsible for the studio system. Of these eight, five were fully integrated conglomerates, combining ownership of a production studio, distribution division, and substantial theater chain, and contracting with performers and filmmaking personnel: Fox (later 20th Century-Fox), Loew's Incorporated (owner of America's largest theater circuit and parent company to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), Paramount Pictures, RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), and Warner Bros. Two majors, Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures were similarly organized, though they never owned more than small theater circuits. The eighth of the Golden Age majors, United Artists, owned a few theaters and had access to two production facilities owned by members of its controlling partnership group, but it functioned primarily as a backer-distributor, loaning money to independent producers and releasing their films. The ranking of the Big Five in terms of profitability (closely related to market share) was largely consistent during the Golden Age: MGM was number one eleven years running, 1931 to 41. With the exception of 1932 when all the companies but MGM lost money. One of the techniques used to support the studio system was block booking, a system of selling multiple films to a theater as a unit. Such a unit, frequently twenty films, typically included no more than a few quality movies, the rest perceived as low-grade filler to bolster the studio's finances. On May 4, 1948, in a federal antitrust suit known as the Paramount case but brought against the entire Big Five, the U.S. Supreme Court specifically outlawed block booking. Holding that the conglomerates were indeed in violation of antitrust, the justices refrained from making a final decision as to how that fault should be remedied, but the case was sent back to the lower court from which it had come with language that suggested divorcement the complete separation of exhibition interests from producer-distributor operations was the answer. The Big Five, though, seemed united in their determination to fight on and drag out legal proceedings for years as they...
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