When Is Online Film Watching A Good Thing?

A few days ago, The Mad Hatter posted an interesting article about watching films online, particularly focusing on a conversation he had had with someone who had chosen to watch Paranormal Activity illegally. I agreed with all of his points. I don't agree with downloading films illegally although I suspect it is not as big a problem as the studios want us to believe. Equally, his point was well made that, if anything, downloading a small independent film (although; is Paranormal Activity that anymore?) is going to really hurt the film maker rather more than say, downloading Transformers 2.

Based on those arguments its probably best why I explain the next post on this blog will be an 'online' review of a small independent film. Lovefilm, the UK's leading DVD rental company, have recently started allowing users on certain rental packages to watch select films online, at no extra cost but included in the monthly payment structure most people have become accustomed to arranging for DVD rentals. This, in my opinion, is a 'good thing'.

Both of the films I have watched through the service so far are un-cinematic, fairly niche movies (wmd. and Tyson) that I certainly wouldn't have gone to the cinema to see and may or may not have tracked down on DVD. In wmd.'s case, I'm not even sure it has a DVD. What the Lovefilm service has allowed is for two small films to get some extra exposure whilst (I assume) making the filmmakers a small amount of money and protecting the watching public from the illegalities of downloads and the websites you have to use to get to them.

I can't say seeing Tyson in the cinema would have been a better experience than watching it through headphones, full-screen, on my laptop. wmd. is tense towards the end but I wouldn't class it as cinematic and the performances probably lend themselves more to the small screen than the large. In all I've seen two films I wouldn't normally have seen, two directors have got a bit more exposure and everybody has gone home happy.

The appearance of wmd. online and on Lovefilm prior to its cinematic release doesn't seem to be an isolated case either. On the 25th September this year, the very same company hosted the world's first online premiere, streamed in parellel with its real-world West-End one. Again, the film in question (Vinyan) was a relatively small, low-budget offering and the move by the filmmakers seems to have similar intentions to wmd.'s. Providing legal access to online films in this way looks likely to escalate over the coming months and years and might provide a more socially engaging and convenient method for movie-goers to connect with films on a similar level as music lovers do with music through Spotify.

Any objections? Is this the legal future of online movie watching?


  1. Interesting counter-point.

    For starters, what you're doing is a bit more on the up and up, because even if there was no cost charged to you, Lovefilm likely worked something out with the filmmakers to exhibit their films.

    Not only that, but I have a bit more faith in what you are watching since video and audio quality are assured - you aren't watching some cheap rip off that doesn't honour the film's integrity.

    Where PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is concerned, the person was watching a poor quality video which was further bitchslapped by poor audio (the audio in that movie is half the scare factor if you ask me).

    I do believe that watching anything in a darkened theatre invests you deeper into the story, but you're right...between TYSON and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, the former doesn't lose anything with the harsh light of day and a laptop monitor.

    You raise an interesting point - access to good quality online material, where the filmmakers are consented, is indeed a good thing. It helps to get material seen by people whose local theatres don't (or won't) carry such titles. This part of the future I don't fear, I just hope that people who take advantage of such material give it its due - watch it with their full attention, don't just have it playing while you IM or email.

    Great post. Thanks for reading my thoughts, and nice work carrying on the conversation!

  2. Again, I think all your points are correct and well expressed.

    I've just added a paragraph I didn't quite have time to earlier about the world's first 'online premiere' which was also hosted by Lovefilm and included a question and answer session post-screening (unfortunately, I couldn't 'attend' with the showing being scheduled just like a 'real' premiere).

    I think what we're seeing here is the start of what happened with Spotify and music with people who usually watch or listen illegally slowly gravitating to a more reliable, less risky, higher quality, legal service which made them feel more connected with their chosen medium.

    I can only see the current offerings on the Lovefilm service expanding and it wouldn't surprise me at all if we see something soon where a 'big' DVD release is released online to premium subscribers a week or two before the disk is. With RGB connections on TVs and good quality surround sound the difference between the two for some viewers would be negligible and the increase in subscribers surely making it a valuable investment for the company and studio alike.

    Watch this space!