Smith Brain Trust / May 19, 2021

Fragmenting Audience: The Feel-Good Hit of the Film Industry?

How Production Funding for Films is Changing

Fragmenting Audience: The Feel-Good Hit of the Film Industry?

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Though the dwindling of viewership figures for the annual Academy Awards ceremony might seem like an adverse omen for the film industry, Maryland Smith’s David Waguespack says, there’s some feel-good news as well.

It can be found in the increasing fragmentation of movie-going audiences, a trend that is paving the way for filmmakers who might have struggled to produce motion pictures that were previously deemed as less commercially viable.

“That’s a trend we’re already seeing with smaller-budget movies like ‘Parasite’ and ‘Nomadland’ taking the best picture prize, and cultural films beginning to take center stage,” says Waguespack, associate professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and who is the co-author of research regarding how media outlets change their behaviors and opinions for highly anticipated films and video games.

In the last few years alone, the ability to reach audiences and meet them where they are has changed immensely because of the increased presence of streaming platforms, says Waguespack. That’s opened up the market for films that would have otherwise struggled to obtain widespread distribution and exhibition, he says.

Increased demand for proprietary content and films on the part of streaming services could signify that the intermediary power of major studios is diminishing, Waguespack says. It also may bode well for filmmakers vying for production funding, he says.

“In short, finding ideas, financing, casting, distribution and business models are in flux,” says Waguespack. 

As for how these trends might impact awards shows like the Oscars, which has observed declining viewership in recent years, it’s not exactly clear just yet, Waguespack says. On an individual level, there are quite a few positives to being recognized, he says, but for producers and distributors sheer popularity doesn’t correlate directly with awards.

That speaks volumes for the Oscars’ impact and relevance, Waguespack says. It could signal that there just isn’t as much at stake financially for production studios when it comes to winning awards, and there is also the possibility that streaming and the pandemic permanently change film exhibition practices.

 “These are interesting times for the film industry as several issues come to the fore, like growth and competition between streaming services and social pressure to increase diversity in the industry,” says Waguespack. “Market pressure to serve different niches; a dearth, outside of superhero films and movies based on books, of tent-pole type films with broad appeal; global competition from studios outside the USA; and forward integration into streaming from studios can all play a role in the future too.”



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