Broadway had never seen anything like it. A Saturday night wake of passionate proportions. Professional photographers, hobbyists and cinema buffs mourned the final passing of analog film as the last film projector in a New York cinema was de-commissioned and hoisted through a gaping hole five stories up. The huge hulk was moved onto a flatbed truck and onward to its new resting place in the Smithsonian.
It was all conducted with great fanfare. There were tears, memories and public bursts of emotion. Orchestrated to coincide with the opening of the largest exhibition of film cameras ever assembled, sponsor Kodak has already moved onto new digital worlds, distancing itself from traditional film for almost a decade.
On the fringes were those unable or unwilling to accept the final reality. Posters proclaiming “Film will never die” and “Analog or Bust” seemed more of a hopeless wish than a considered reality. This finally is the end of analog images.
The business of moving and still images continues to be big, but the medium has changed, with huge winners and losers in its wake. Movies, music and images are now primarily digital – routinely stored and downloaded from the Internet. Any media, any language, any time, day or night. Bye bye film.
From the perspective of this twenty-something reporter – “Good riddance – get out of the way and let the downloads begin.” But, I don’t think my parents will ever be able to accept this change.
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ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
In 1888, George Eastman launches the first Kodak film camera with the slogan “You press the button – we do the rest”. Twenty years later the Brownie camera is launched, selling for a dollar. Kodak also pioneered the first pocket camera, the Instamatic, in the 1960s.
In 1903, the first silent movie “The Great Train Robbery” is released, and in 1928, the first talkie, “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson.
The health care industry embraces film for many imaging applications to speed diagnosis and discovery.
The platform for all of this is celluloid film – a flexible base covered in light-sensitive chemicals to capture images from reality and our imagination – and transport them to the far-flung corners of the world.
Then along comes electronic and digital media. From the time the very first electronic bit of information was stored digitally, film has been on an inevitable road to oblivion.
1995-2002: The birth of digital
The first consumer digital cameras enter world markets. In 1996, George Fisher, CEO of Kodak announces that Kodak intends to leave the film business. By 2000, sales of traditional cameras peak and then start a sharp decline. By the end of 2002 it is estimated that half the market has disappeared.
Kodak’s US$ 1 billion investment in Advantix (the Advanced Photo System) together with Canon, Nikon, Konica and Fuji, designed as an end-of-life kicker for film cameras, turns out to be a commercial disaster and is abandoned.
2003: Digital adolescence
Digital camera sales grow by 40% over 2002 – beneficiaries are Sony, Kodak, Canon, Olympus, Nikon, Fuji and HP who together represent 90% of this market. (Source IDC). Colour photo printers are given away for ‘free’ with large orders of photographic quality paper.
Illegal digital music downloads exceed 30 billion during 2003. CD sales drop by more than 10%.
DVD sales explode and now out-sell movies on video tape by 6:1. The digital content on DVDs proves to be an irresistible target for illegal movie downloads from the Internet.
In September 2003, after more than 100 years in the film business and with 70% of its revenues (and sharply declining profits) still coming from traditional film products, Kodak embarks on a radical strategy to get out of the film camera business. “The biggest turning point in Kodak’s history!” It’s essentially a shift from being a chemicals business (films, photographic paper and darkroom agents) to becoming an electronics business, focused on consumer, commercial and health markets. New skills, and many new business partners.
2004: Analog obsolescence
Sales figures released for the previous year show that digital cameras outsold traditional cameras by 2:1.
It is estimated by The Economist that more than half of all professional photographers have moved onto the digital medium. News photographers have already been swept into the digital world by publishing deadlines and syndication needs.
China is seen by Kodak as The Last Outpost of its ‘film empire’ – the only market where a growth of 10% p.a. in sales is expected on traditional 35mm film.
Texas Instrument’s Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology has brought digital projection technology to more than 50% of business presentations, and replaced more than 50% of video projectors in homes.
2005: Piracy the norm
Movie pirating is increasing, driven by DVD downloads off the Internet. Movie distributors, reluctant to release new movies on DVD, launch the first direct broadcasts to cinemas with a simultaneous world-wide release of “The Hobbit” – claimed to have been filmed secretly during the making of the “Lord of the Rings” series.
Kodak’s expectations of the Chinese photographic film market fall flat – with a net annual decline of almost 40%. This was to be their cash cow with digital film products still highly price sensitive. The Chinese market becomes primarily digital in less than 2 years as new consumers leap-frog straight to the digital medium.
Chinese web sites become the world epicentre of ‘free’ content.
2006: Ubiquitous digital
Nikon and Canon announce their intention to leave the film camera business, but continue to manufacture lenses for their digital camera backs.
Imax production costs spiral out of control and a decision is made to ‘go digital’ to save the future of the company.
It is now impossible to buy a mobile phone without a camera. Manufacturers find it is cheaper to include cameras ‘for free’ than to offer the option of not having one. Quality approaches consumer digital cameras of just two years previous.
2007: Digital shakeout
Digital camera manufacturers suffer a massive shakeout. How do you compete with someone who gives the digital camera away ‘free’? The impact of the integration of cameras into mobile phones has created a price-cut vortex. After a bloody 12 months only three manufacturers survive.
Fuji’s business crumbles. Having moved from a film-only business into digital cameras in the 1990s, they have now seen their new market assumptions destroyed and seek a radical new transition to future markets. Kodak makes a hostile bid for Fuji’s business, hoping to create a global imaging empire, but is pipped to the post by Europe’s Vodafone who snap up both Canon and Fuji.
2009: The End!
The last film projector in New York cinemas is de-commissioned. It is moved to Washington’s Smithsonian Institution with great fanfare.
Movies, music and images are now routinely stored and downloaded from the Internet – most commercial and personal content shares the same platform.
Any media, any language, any time, day or night. Bye bye film.