Have we come full circle? During the golden age of cinema films stayed in cinemas for much longer than we would expect these days. Gone with the Wind was released in 1939 and stayed in cinemas for around four years selling a reported 60 million tickets. This was at a time during the war when TV didn’t exist in the way we know it now (and wasn’t broadcast in any form in the UK). It was re-releases eight times (in 1947, 1954, 1961, 1967, 1971, 1974, 1989, and 1998) six of those were before home video took off. The success of Gone with the Wind and the $3.3 billion (adjusted for inflation) that it is reported to have made is down to the amount of time it spent in cinemas and the TV sales in the 70’s. Amazingly its world television premiere took nearly forty years on HBO in 1976. Making up for lost time the network broadcast the movie fourteen times in three weeks. NBC paid $5 million for a one-off airing (the highest-rated television in American history) then two years later CBS purchased the broadcast rights for $35 million, a deal that stood until a new deal saw Turner Entertainment take over in the late 80’s. Forty-six years after its original release it debuted on video in March 1985.
It’s a Wonderful Life was a very different story, a commercial failure on its release in 1946 but a clerical error prevented the copyright from being renewed in the mid seventies and for the next decade it became a Christmas staple. Contrary to popular belief TV broadcasters were still required to pay royalties, they just didn’t need to worry about purchasing broadcast rights.
Although very different stories, they have something in common. Their success came through their accessibility. But then things changed. During the 80’s as mass consumerism exploded and VHS VCR’s became common in many homes ownership became more important to many people. Sure, video rental stores were commonplace but for any movie fan owning a copy of their favourite movies became as important as owning an album (or later CD). As VHS gave way to DVD prices fell and supermarkets now sell DVD’s (around six to nine months after their initial release) for about the same price it cost to rent a new release a decade ago.
So why do I say things have come full circle? Despite the falling cost of owning media people are turning to another way of watching movies. The big change, the internet. First you could download movies, then you could stream them to your computer. Now you can stream them to your TV via various devises. Not only has this revolutionised the way people watch movies but it changed attitudes, although the medium has changed access has once more become more important than ownership. Having said all of this, the best and still my favourite place to watch any film is in the cinema.