Book Title: The Oxford History of World Cinema. Contributors: Geoffrey Nowell-Smith - editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of Publication: Oxford. Publication Year: 1997
CINEMA IN THE AGE OF TELEVISION
Television and the Film Industry
Cinema and television are generally thought of as distinct, whether as industrial practices or as viewing experiences. In fact the two have been quite closely interwoven, ever since television first emerged as a possible rival to cinema on an industrial scale. This was particularly true in the United States, where crossover between radio and cinema interests began in the 1920s, extending to television with the start of commercial television broadcasting in 1939. In European countries, where broadcasting was in the hands of state monopolies, they remained separate for longer, but since the 1950s there has been a growing convergence at all levels. By the 1980s, with the advent of large-screen television on the one hand and home video on the other, all the distinctions had become blurred. Electronic formats are increasingly used for cinema presentation; the same companies produce material for both cinema and television; and films made for the cinema are more often viewed on the television screen (whether broadcast or on video) than in theatres.
In the United States, broadcasting developed as a system of privately owned, commercial stations tied together by two great networks and ineffectively regulated by the federal government. Hollywood studios first proposed an alternative programming structure which would have supported broadcasting from box-office profits. Paramount and MGM attempted to initiate their own film-based radio networks in the late 1920s, using film talent under contract to provide entertainment with publicity value in promoting films. However, a combination of exhibitors' objections and inability to obtain the necessary connecting land lines from AT&T blocked these efforts, and the studios turned to station ownership and the provision of talent to the advertising agencies and sponsors who produced the bulk of radio programming in the 1930s and 1940s. Hollywood stars and properties figured large in radio's golden age. Paramount purchased an interest in CBS in 1928, which it was forced to surrender under financial pressure in 1932; Paramount, MGM, and Warner Bros. all operated radio stations in the 1920s and 1930s. By the same token, in 1929 the Radio Corporation of America, operator of the NBC network, formed its own film company, RKO, in part to market its sound-on-film system, but also as a source of radio programming.
Thus US broadcasting and film interests, though providing differentiated product, were already highly integrated in the years prior to the introduction of television. Within the highly commodified competitive environment of US mass media, there was struggle over the form and audiences appropriate to broadcasting and film. Although broadcasting, with its need to accommodate commercial advertising messages, developed a shorter, segmented, frequently disrupted discursive structure built around such broadcasting-specific forms as the situation comedy, the daytime serial, and the quiz programme, Hollywood's influence showed up particularly in movie-adaptation programmes such as the Lux Radio Theater, hour-long drama, and the musical variety show.
In return, radio stars and properties formed a significant part of Hollywood's film output in the 1930s and 1940s. Stars such as Amos and Andy ( Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll), Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby, and many other lesser lights made films based on their radio personalities. Following AT&T's federally mandated restructuring of land line rates in 1936, radio production moved to the west coast, where each of the major networks built their main studios. Despite federal regulation which consistently favoured the interests of the large radio corporations over those of the film companies -- already considered too powerful in their own field and subject to frequent anti-trust complaints -- Hollywood took a lively interest in and received considerable economic benefit from broadcasting activities, and had every reason to expect to play a role in the emerging television industry.
In contrast, European radio generally followed a public service model with broadcasting facilities and programming owned and/or controlled by the State, from which cinema interests were not only economically removed but conceptually distinct. Though the British film industry, for example, had benefited from protective legislation since the 1920s, it was a commercial industry opera- -466-
ting outside the public service sphere, with a different and conflicting set of cultural obligations and allegiances. From the beginning the BBC had found amicable relations with the cinema difficult to establish; most cinema representatives could perceive no benefit to their industry in diluting the box-office appeal of films in order to assist a state-supported entertainment competitor.
Without the competitive demands to increase audiences on which advertising-supported broadcasting was constructed, a more deliberate approach to programming was possible.The early BBC concentrated on 'serious' music and drama, 'talks' and discussion, educational broadcasts, and children's programmes, with more popular variety-based formats developing slowly. The serial comedy/drama form did not emerge on the BBC until the mid-1930s, inspired by US programmes as heard on Radio Luxembourg. Few opportunities for co-operation or mutual benefit between cinema and broadcasting could develop under these circumstances. As the BBC under John Reith developed its mission of programming for cultural edification and education, the cinema retained its association with the vulgar taste of the masses, catered to by the kind of commercial interests to be avoided in broadcasting. This model predominated in broadcasting/cinema relations throughout Europe and also in Japan. Where cinema interests could not actively benefit, through ownership control or commercial sponsorship, from a connection with state-run monopoly broadcasting, the two industries remained distinct or even hostile. They were united only by a concern to resist invasive US competition in both radio -- via Radio Luxembourg and its ilk -- and film exported to European theatres by the Hollywood majors.
TELEVISION: THE AMERICAN MODEL
Foreshadowings of television's imminent arrival occurred in the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia as early as the mid-1930s. Though the war temporarily diverted production and planning away from domestic television, in the USA both networks and studios prepared to hit the ground running as wartime restrictions eased. However, warned in 1945 by the Federal Communications Commission ( FCC) that a significant ownership stake in television broadcasting would be badly received due to pending anti-trust investigation, Hollywood studios turned to alternative schemes for a profitable film-based television service. These included theatre television, the broadcasting of special-appeal events such as sports, theatre, or opera on cinema screens, and subscription television, an early version of pay-per-view movies to be viewed in the home. Though unfavorable FCC policy reviews and decisions restricted growth of these competitive uses of the medium, Hollywood repeated its performance with radio by moving decisively into other avenues for marketing its products.
By the mid- 1950s, resolution of the Paramount anti-trust case had caused US studios to sell off their exhibition arms, effectively removing their most pressing and vocal opposition to television involvement. While one of the major spun-off exhibition divisions, United Paramount Theatres, did merge with a broadcaster (ABC), most activity took place on the studio side and production for the emerging medium started up in earnest. By 1965, almost 70 per cent of prime-time filmed programming emanated from the newly converted television facilities of the major and minor studios. The divestiture agreement also accelerated the breakup of the classic Hollywood integrated studio, and, as independent producers formed companies around two or three key broadcast or film properties, the former majors assumed a vital role in distribution. Any space on the back lots not used directly for studio production was rented out to the many small 'indie prods' (in Variety's classic prose) such as Frederick Ziv, 'Desilu' ( Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball), Jerry Fairbanks, and Hal Roach. In the 1960s the networks began scheduling regular showings of theatrical films. This was made possible because residual payment problems with musicians' and actors' unions had been settled, and network advertising revenues had climbed to a level that allowed sufficient compensation for the films. The success of such theatrical 'packages' on the networks led to the creation of a new form: the 'made-for- TV' movie, leading the networks into their own form of film production.
Hollywood also actively entered the syndication business, providing an alternative to network programming by selling direct to stations across the country. In 1971 the socalled 'fin/syn' laws (financial interest and syndication) required the television networks to reduce their interest in production. This allowed the Hollywood studios to consolidate their already strong position in production and syndication for network television. American television became, de facto if not de jure, a joint endeavour between broadcasting powers and Hollywood image factories. By the same token, while feature film production would remain the dominant factor in Hollywood's image, by the 1970s the studios' sound stages and back lots were largely television production centres.
The studios largely eliminated the production of B films, reflecting changed exhibition conditions as well as the shift of low-budget production to television. Newsreel production and exhibition -- a thriving component of 1940s cinema -- came to an abrupt halt, as news and documentaries shifted to television and newsreel theatres closed their doors. The Hollywood 'women's picture' -- low- budget melodramas of special appeal to the female audience -- disappeared from the theatres, in favour of both daytime and prime-time television material. The 'block- buster' phenomenon, with its roots in the vertical disintegration of the Hollywood system, reflected the 'Make
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz ham it up in an episode of I Love Lucy them Big; Show them Big; and Sell them Big' philosophy of Hollywood during the transition years. An economy of excess resulted, as competition for major stars and properties bid up production values and costs. 'Big' theatres, however, were quickly being left behind by populations expanding out of the inner cities to the suburbs, where shopping-mall multiplexes and drive-ins began to replace the long-standing system of first-run palaces/second-run neighbourhood theatres so long a feature of urban life.
EUROPE AND JAPAN
In contrast to the United States, the integration of European film and television industries faced significant barriers, made more difficult throughout by the problem of US media exports and investments. In Great Britain, co-operation between the film and television industries was hampered by several factors also common to European experience in general. Characterized by an official Board of Trade Committee Report as 'among the businesses least appropriate for state ownership and operation' in 1949, the post-war film industry again found linkages with the emerging BBC television service difficult to establish. Three factors seem to have influenced this inter-industry stand- off: the close identification of film industry interests with those of the powerful and vocal cinema exhibitors, who stood only to lose in a closer relationship of film production with television; the association of the major British film organizations (notably Rank and ABPC) with commercial uses of television, via proposals for theatre television and the much-debated creation of commercially sponsored TV channels; and the heavy involvement of American studios in British film production, which lent an unwanted 'foreign'element to discussions of closer co-operation.
While debates raged, the BBC proceeded with its own in- house television experimentation and production, attempting to preserve the kind of public service programme standards which it had established in radio. Even the introduction of ITV in 1955 and BBC2 in 1964 did little to resolve the cinema question, except to heighten demand for film product through increased competition. Exhibitors intensified their resistance efforts with the formation of the Film Industry Defence Organization ( FIDO) in 1958, which extracted a per-ticket levy on theatres to create a film purchasing fund designed to 'rescue' British films from sale to television and to impose restrictions on television sales and scheduling. Already suffering from the 'Eady levy' on admissions imposed in 1950 and an additional Entertainments Tax in 1956, British theatres shut down at an alarming rate while exhibitors sounded an increasingly desperate note. Dennis Walls, past president of the Cinema Exhibitors Association ( CEA), declared flatly in Kine Weekly in 1953: 'We should not be a part of giving the public free entertainment. It is a bad principle.'
Ironically, it could be argued that the efforts of exhibitors (and government) to save the film industry only exacerbated the downward spiral of profits and production by preventing British film producers from diversifying into television -- a more reliable source of potential funds for film financing, given shifting population patterns and entertainment habits of the post-war public. Also, by resisting sale of films and more direct co-operation with television, British film-makers may have encouraged the BBC to expand into areas of film production that it might have avoided had outside product been available, particularly the newsreel. Exhibition suffered too, as taxes placed on cinema exhibition discouraged the building of new theatres in the growing suburbs and 'new towns' across the country. Cinema's 'lost audience' turned increasingly to television.
Complicating matters for both British exhibitors and producers, an ample supply of American film product remained available for sale to emerging commercial services, and was actively marketed across Europe by the MPEA, the export arm of the Motion Pictures Producers Association. By 1964 MCA, United Artists, Goldwyn, and Selznick had sold film packages to British television; the exhibitors' dam had burst. In that year 13 per cent of the programming on British networks consisted of feature films, British and foreign. Meanwhile, the BBC continued
to produce 85 per cent of its programming in-house. But, as in the USA, the major British cinema companies soon found ways of diversifying into television: the Rank organization purchased an interest in Southern Television, one of the ITV companies, in conjunction with Associated News- papers Group and D. C. Thomson; Lew Grade's ABPC became the integrated regional company ATV, serving the Midlands area; and Sidney Bernstein's Granada received the first franchise for the North of England.
A similar pattern emerged in the major film-producing European countries of France, Germany, and Italy, though more slowly. In each case, the post-war broadcasting industry remained under greater or lesser degrees of direct government ownership or control, perceived as an instrument of national culture and public service; the film industry, on the other hand, though subsidized and protected to some extent by government-imposed quota systems, remained essentially a private commercial enterprise. Television was slower to develop in Europe than in the USA, allowing cinema admissions to continue to grow through the 1950s. Indeed, Italy enjoyed a cinematic renaissance during the post-war years, with production, number of theatres, and ticket sales at a higher level than ever before (or since). In France theatre admissions began to decline even before television had reached significant penetration levels, indicating that post-war population shifts and changes in consumer habits may have contributed to the world-wide drop in cinema-going even more than competition from television.
However, by the 1960s decline in theatre revenues and competition for audiences with American film exports was having a similar effect on all European film industries. In those countries such as Italy and Canada, where government-owned networks were at least partially funded through advertising, US-produced television pro- gramming competed with national product for space on the television schedule. Most countries responded by establishing quotas to restrict imports of American film and television, both as a proportion of films exhibited per month and as a percentage of total television time. One result was an increase of joint US-European film production, as well as inter-European joint ventures. Various systems of government subsidization of the film industry also helped to maintain the cinema's role in national culture, though problems in correlating funding with film quality and appeal sometimes worked against long-term benefits. In Germany, for example, film production rose to new heights in the 1950s, under a subsidy system again based on ticket sales that encouraged a form of low-budget, critically deplored 'package' (or series) production much resembling the situation comedy form developed in the USA for television. Yet, until the 1970s, little cross-financing or true cooperation existed between the stubbornly self-contained cinema and broadcasting institutions.
Simultaneously with divestiture, changing US tax laws freed studios from their attachment to domestic locations and moved much American production abroad in the 1960s. Combined with efforts to circumvent strict import quotas in most European countries, this led to an increase in American investment in European productions as well as joint productions. However, national film industries found independence harder than ever to maintain. Television continued to nibble at the edges of the industry; by 1973 British documentarist John Grierson could write, 'You must see the BBC in Britain as taking over the documentary film movement which I directed in the thirties.' However, the growing television industry was seen to benefit most from enforced merging of interests; the mostly non-profit or heavily regulated commercial networks, limited in the amount of advertising time they were allowed to sell, could
not or would not pay sufficient sums to film producers to compensate for loss of theatre revenues.
Japan provides a similar experience to Europe, with interesting variations. Direct US control of broadcasting after the war did not allow television development to expand until the late 1950s -- by which time a heavy presence of American films on broadcast channels had become standard. However, Japan adopted a mixed commercial/public system by which NHK, the state organization, ran two networks while privately owned stations were allowed to operate commercially. This system encouraged both Japanese production for television and closer links with the film industry, to the benefit of both media. Quota barriers, used in Europe to prevent the domination of American product, never took hold in Japan. In 1969 over thirty US films were aired on NHK, compared to seven Japanese and twenty from all other countries; the weekly schedule regularly included US-produced television programmes such as The Doris Day Show, Green Acres, and Cowboy in Africa. The Japanese developed sophisticated dubbing techniques which made the conversion of English- language programmes so convincingly natural that one historian reports the common audience impression that 'these foreigners speak excellent Japanese'.
It was not until the 1970s that more widespread co-operation began between European television and cinema industries, spurred by the increased commercialization of avenues of broadcasting, and further motivated by developing distribution technologies. In 1974 Italy allowed private local broadcasting stations and cable systems to go commercial. This initially resulted in an upsurge in the market for American TV and films, but the Italian film industry began to benefit from the demand for product built up by competitive pressure. Both RAI, the large government- owned broadcasting company, and Silvio Berlusconi's Fin- invest networks began to invest heavily in film production.
In Germany, the decentralized Länder system of regional broadcasting companies led to more flexible relations between TV and cinema. By 1974 a formalized 'Film/Television Agreement' encouraged film-TV co-productions, structured the allotment of production subsidies in exchange for broadcast rights, and created a government- funded grants pool for independent productions. The acclaimed Arbeiterfilm of the 1970s, developed by WDR Cologne, included the efforts of such directors as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and drew on television family drama structures to provide a realistic and politically informed depiction of the lives of German working-class families. The 'New German Cinema' of the 1970s also owes much of its success to such television-based financial support; by the late 1980s, both of Germany's largest film studios were at least partially owned by broadcasting interests. In France, too, intra-industry co-operation helps to support a vital film industry, a process made smoother by the traditional
status of French film as an important outlet for national culture.
In Great Britain, on the other hand, it took the advent of the long-awaited Channel 4 to revive meaningful co-operation between Britain's still-struggling cinema and the television industry. Formed in 1981, Channel 4 does not provide in-house programmes but instead finances independent productions mostly of a less commercial, more innovative nature. The timing of this new network was fortunate in that by 1980 several developments had occurred that expanded greatly the world-wide market for film product: the rise of satellite-distributed services, either by direct broadcast satellite (DBS) or by cable; the introduction and rapid spread of home video recorders; and sweeping deregulation of European television systems.
THE NEW ENTERTAINMENT ORDER
In the USA, the first significant crumbling of the three-network television system came in the late 1970s as cable spread rapidly across the country, spurred by the potential of satellite distribution and relaxed FCC regulations on cable programming, including release of feature films. From 1972 to 1982, the number of households subscribing to cable jumped from 6.5 million to 29 million. With the success of satellite-distributed pay-TV services providing uninterrupted feature films to cable systems -- notably Time Inc.'s Home Box Office (HBO) and its competitor Show- time, owned by Viacom -- Hollywood perceived both a new threat and a new opportunity. A type of vertical integration had begun to develop in the major cable television MSOs (multiple systems operators), with such companies as Time Inc. and Viacom investing in film production, obtaining exclusive pay-TV rights, and exhibiting films on their wholly owned cable TV franchises nation-wide. To combat the domination of these two firms over cable, four studios ( Columbia, Paramount, 20th Century -- Fox, and Universal) proposed their own joint pay-TV service in 1978, called Premiere. Once again, anti-trust regulations enforced by the Justice Department stopped this service before it had a chance to enter the market, and studios were forced to accommodate the dominant pay-TV services by signing exclusive contracts in the late 1980s. However, new opportunities for film studios to profit from the distribution explosion of the 1980s soon developed, including direct investment in cable television channels and broadcasting stations, the emerging videocassette market, and continued production of both network and syndicated programming.
Of these, the most significant for the cinema may be videocassette distribution, the revenue from which grew to exceed box-office income in the later half of the 1980s. In the light of this revolution, a new pattern of release for theatrical films has developed, with theatrical exhibition rapidly succeeded by release on video and pay per view, -473-
usually during the first year of a film's life, followed by cable TV, network showing, and finally syndication. As British film-maker David Puttnam (later to enjoy a brief stint as head of Columbia Pictures Corporation) predicted as early as 1982, exhibition in theatres, while profitable for the biggest box-office hits, now functions primarily as a promotional device for subsequent avenues of release, some- what ironically supporting a renaissance in theatre investment and building.
Videocassette distribution may benefit from this phenomenon as well: in March of 1993 Blockbuster Video, the USA's largest chain of video retail stores, bought a controlling interest in Spelling Entertainment, a leading independent television and film production company. By spring 1994 Blockbuster was powerful enough to be a player in the take-over of Paramount Pictures Corporation. A successful theatrical opening, with attendant publicity, promotion, and critical reviews, can be the single largest factor affecting a film's marketability in international and ancillary sales. Though video discs proved disappointing in their first appearance in the distribution chain, new applications combining laser recording with computer accessibility may open up new possibilities in the 1990s.
These changing technologies and conditions of distribution both stemmed from, and intensified, corporate integration between former film and television entities. The Hollywood studios have become one arm of huge media conglomerates that operate both production and distribution chains in film, television, video, and often music and publishing as well.
The situation is, if anything, more volatile in European markets, where deregulation of state broadcasting systems combined with the rise of satellite-distributed pan-European services has stimulated the film-production industry. France began a new subscription service, Canal +, in 1984, consisting primarily of feature films, added two private television networks in 1985, and privatized one of the previously state-owned channels in 1987. Canal + now figures as the French film industry's largest investor, both through direct investment and in sale of broadcast rights. However, despite Canal +s 'cinematheque' function, an agreement not to schedule films on Friday nights had to be devised as a gesture to mollify the film industry's fears of increased competition. Germany introduced four new commercial channels in 1984; in Italy, besides the commercialization of local broadcasting, media magnate Silvio Berlusconi acquired three national networks in the 1980s, and set up new film-production facilities to support his investments. ( Berlusconi's elevation to Italian Prime Minister in 1994 is the ultimate demonstration of the power of the new media magnates.) In Great Britain, the success of Channel 4's film venture led other ITV companies to establish 'film arms' to diversify into direct film production for television. In 1988 the BBC announced its intention to produce at least six films a year under the supervision of a newly appointed editor for independent drama productions with ties to the film industry.
In addition to national services, the unification of the European economy has contributed to the sudden explosion in DBS services. This includes the five channels initially assigned to British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) and Rupert Murdoch's Sky Channel; now 'merged' as BSkyB, and based in Luxembourg to serve all of Europe. Though fairly severe quotas were originally established to restrict the number of American films and television programmes on these services, it seems clear that the demand created by this channel proliferation must eventually be filled with imported material. Just as satellite distribution creates 'television without frontiers', with broadcasting systems no longer confined to one country, so film and television production must adapt for the multi-cultural market. By 1992 this process had begun in earnest, typified by a production such as Gaumont Television's international series The Highlander. Financed jointly by Rysher Entertainment ( USA), TF1 ( France), RTL Plus ( Germany), Reteitalia ( Italy), and Amuse Video ( Japan), this hour-long action-adventure series was produced co-operatively and marketed internationally for syndication on national broadcasting systems. Gaumont Television, a subsidiary of one of France's oldest film studios, Gaumont SA, is the copyright holder and coordinated a production process that carefully encouraged creative input and approval from its national partners. Another example of such international co-production activity is the same company's agreement with Warner Bros. Television to produce a series based on the Gaumont film Nikita ( 1990), for which Warner also purchased the rights for a theatrical remake, Point of no Return (UK: The Assassin, 1993). Cross-licensing and co-production arrangements such as these blur both film/television and national distinctions. These processes seem likely to increase, despite concerns over the protection of national cultures and media industries, and renewed calls for import quotas and internal regulation.
Hollywood has frequently been characterized as a kind of aesthetic vacuum, producing films devoid of any true national character but, by virtue of its huge home market, sucking in talent from around the world. Certainly a common pattern has developed whereby talented directors from many different countries, once they have achieved a level of success, export their talents to Hollywood. British directors such as Ridley Scott, Adrian Lyne, and Alan Parker work almost exclusively in the USA; Gérard Depardieu seemed for a while to spend as much time in American productions as in French. However, European films are finding new ways to tap into that American market. US cable channels are looking to diversify into new products and video
makes possible a kind of long-term distribution never before available. Though the balance of power between Hollywood and other national industries may not be easily redressed, the loosening of avenues of distribution and changing circumstances of exhibition at least provide more possibilities than ever before.
The boundaries set between television and the cinema, shaped as they were in the very specific conditions of the 1950s and 1960s, can now be seen as far more arbitrary, and far less necessary, than the discourses inherited from these earlier periods would have us believe. Definitions set as long ago as the 1920s enforced distinctions and erected barriers that impeded a freer adaptation of old forms to new, and restricted potential audiences and uses of developing media. It was the introduction of new technology that, in most cases, finally broke down these now transparent and largely obsolete distinctions. However, new technology does not develop by itself, but serves to open avenues for competing sets of institutional interests to intervene forcefully in established arrangements. Though technology may provide the opportunity for change, it is shifting political and economic alliances that either spur or slow technological growth, and determine how such technology will be used.
Thus, television did not develop-as popular myth would have it -- as a new and potent interloper which conquered cinema by capturing its audience. It developed as an adjustment of a complex set of interests already arranged along mutually contested and shifting lines. In this relationship broadcasters, cinema producers, distributors and exhibitors, and the regulatory apparatus of the State play the major roles. It is in the balance of power between these forces established in the 1950s and 1960s that our everyday understanding of the basic meaning of 'film' and 'television' was formed, and which the advent of new technologies of distribution in the 1980s and 1990s begins to overturn.
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