Is Cheap Gear Killing The Film Industry? IBC Panel Discussion On The Impact of Commoditization

As prices for cameras and other production gear keep coming down further and further, the traditional world of production (namely broadcasters and large production companies) are lamenting about the impact of this development on their business. They used to be the gatekeepers to getting professional content produced and distributed, which meant that large gear manufacturers and broadcasters held a lot more power in the past – before the internet and the erosion of television as we know it.

At IBC 2015 in Amsterdam, I was invited to a panel discussion about the ongoing commoditization in our industry. It was a very interesting discussion thanks to the wide range of guests who were invited by chair Graham Sharp (Senior Vice President of Global Products at Vitec Videocom): Next to me on the panel were:

  • Andrew Cross, President and CTO of NewTek, a company that has been on the forefront of post production tools and the IP based streaming solutions since its inception in 1985
  • Matt Danilowicz, CEO of Vitec Videocom, the mother company of such renowned brands such as Sachtler, Litepanels, Vinten, OConnor, SmallHD, Teradek, Paralinx and many others.
  • Mark Harrison, Managing Director of the Digital Production Partnership for the BBC in the UK. Alongside Mark who represented the “broadcast side” of the content production spectrum, I was invited as an “independent content producer”.
  • Joe Zaller is the CEO of Devoncroft, a market research company for digital media companies. He moderated the panel.
  • Nino Leitner (myself), independent content producer, director of photography and CEO of Nino Film GmbH & partner & editor at

It was a very engaging discussion with a lot of very different perspectives onto the industry, which is something we rarely get – usually the range of people on such a panel isn’t as diverse as in this case.

It’s well worth a watch even at the 1h 10 minutes it lasts, and it’s great to see that both traditional manufacturers as well as large content producers are recognizing that there’s a massive shift going through our industry which revolutionizes and democratizes content production – due to less expensive production gear and a further democratization of distribution through the internet, which is an ongoing process.


cinema5D at IBC 2015
B&H Blackmagic Design Sachtler G-Technology edelkrone

Watch it on Vimeo

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John Vigran Reply
John Vigran September 21, 2015

This is exactly the same thing that happened to the recording industry, circa 2000. It started with the development of the “home” studio and digital recording, and culminated in an era when any kid with a Mac could make and distribute his or her own record online. We see what has happened to the music/studio industry. Now we are seeing the same phenomenon in the film/production industry. The result is a glut of grade “b” or “c” (or worse) material, that nobody has the time or inclination to see anyway. Guess I’ll go read a book…..but…..which one? How can I possibly choose one (out of many thousands), in the era of “self-publishing”? Sigh. I guess there is no putting the genie back in the bottle now…..

Kamto W September 21, 2015

I doubt you have actually watched the discussion.

John Vigran Reply
John Vigran September 21, 2015

You are right, and thank you for your astute observation and heads-up post. I have not watched the discussion. With so much other stuff to watch, who has the time?

Kamto W September 21, 2015

No need to be sarcastic.

A couple of points I took from the discussion:

-Top tier high budget productions will still be there because there are demands for it.

-Talented content creators have more chances now because the focus is less on technology and the cost to have it.

-The industry is always going to change. Can we really expect it to stay the same forever? Now is just another phrase of change.

Personally I think it’s similar in the music industry. Yes some of the businessmen will be out of work. And the competition is higher. But well produced albums still sell well. And good music would have their chance to have it’s audience. Not everyone, but that was never the case ever.

John Vigran Reply
John Vigran September 21, 2015

I apologize for the sarcasm.

My point is, not so long ago, if, for example, a band wanted to make a record, they had to be good enough for someone to invest many thousands of dollars for a studio, engineer(s), session musicians, actual manufacturing of the records, distribution, promotion, administration of royalties, etc. Now, all or most of those costs are moot for most current “production”, and anyone who has access to a Mac and the internet can make and distribute their own music. I doubt anyone would argue that the amount of content has increased exponentially as a result. But I would argue that the audience has not kept up with the amount of production, and no one has as yet invented a way to create more time to listen to all this stuff. Yes, the industry is always going to change. But ask anyone who has ever worked in the music business over the last twenty years or so and they will tell you that it has be eviscerated since the introduction of the PC and the development of the internet.

So, bottom line, exponential increase in content, while the amount of time to experience it has remained pretty much the same.

You (correctly) busted me for not having seen the accompanying video to the article. OK. But do I really want to take an hour and ten minutes out of my day to watch it?

60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, or one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second. I think you will get where I am going with this, and I thank you for the opportunity to discuss it.

Kamto W September 23, 2015

I totally got what you said. But I wonder if it matters if we don’t have time to watch all the cat videos. I’m not trying to underestimate the problem with too much content being available. But I find myself looking out for things I might be interested in and cut through all the white noise. Just speaking from my own experience. Maybe people will get better at that?

I think it’s more about micro markets now. Even video games under the big sellers there are tons of games from boutique game labels. (Big video game labels are also going bust..) Moreover to be able to be an artist/filmmaker now you need to have certain level of entrepreneurship skill. Everyone is a business now and find your own clients or (smaller) audience is the name of the game. We probably will need both to survive nowadays.

And the wider economy has huge effect on it. Film, music, video games are all luxuries and it’s not something people want to spend on when the purse string is tight.

I saw the doco Salt of the Earth recently and I was moved, other audience was moved. I was in Lisbon and people queue outside in the hot sun to see Salgado’s photography show. Of course it might not have anything to do with the film. But a good film is a good film it find its audience. People who have no interest now to see films and happy with youtube would probably unlikely to spend that much on films anyway.

As for music. Why it must be start at the studio? What about going out to play and find your audience and then sell your stuff there or from your website? It’s harder, I know. But it’s a way. Why stuck in one, past your sell by date, way of thinking? Used to be most people had to beg (or worst) for a chance. Maybe you are looking at it from the ‘industry’, I must say I’m glad it’s gone.

By the way, Hollywood and businessmen ( by making the same shit over and over) killed most film industries around the world back in the day. It hasn’t been around for most countries before internet ever happened.

 Conor Bolton Reply
Conor Bolton March 20, 2016

The problem I have with the “gatekeepers”, is that they had far too much control over who made their art, and who did not. It artificially limited the landscape of available content to only what was acceptable to these mostly old white male individual’s preferences. So you got a very narrow range of perspectives and aesthetic styles that were very artfully produced, as opposed to now…where there is a totally diverse body of works suited to all tastes and sensibilities but often lacking the technical expertise to match the production quality to the level of artistic inspiration and enthusiasm. It’s a give and take, but as a content creator AND consumer…it’s a golden age for new perspectives and new experiences in media productions. I can shoot quality Audio and Video, on tiny budgets, that is only narrowly less aesthetically pleasing than what the pros do on high budgets with any equipment or crew they need. I love it :-) Those who have a voice and the patience to hone their technique will flourish…the difference is that now everyone gets the chance to learn and develop and to express their ideas.

Ahmed Qooqaani Reply
Ahmed Qooqaani October 2, 2015

Thank you for th summarization

Oscar M Reply
Oscar M September 21, 2015

Sure its a good Thing.
I don’t need any old fat rich bunch of money men to decide what is good content. A lot of crap has ben published ever sine the camera has been invented.

John Ta Reply
John Ta September 21, 2015

This was a very good discussion. Is cheap gear killing the industry? The answer is yes but the reasons why didn’t really get talked about til about 5 minutes before the end when you talked about software.

One day we’ll shoot from our cameras built in our contact lenses and edit by swiping left and right. It’s all about the software, man. The hardware follows.

Mike Tesh September 22, 2015

Yes it is, to an extent. There is a glut of content out there now. But what most people in discussions like this fail to realize is that it’s not just cheap hardware companies eating their own industry, it’s the variety of media we have today that is competing for eyeballs.

Twenty years ago video games were mostly payed by children and teenagers. Today that generation are adults in their 30’s and 40’s and there are more casual gamers than ever on facebook and smartphones. The internet in general is eating a lot of the film industry’s lunch. People are spending more time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Forty years ago you have Print(books, newspapers, magazines), TV, Theater (films and plays) and Audio(radio and tape/vinyl). Today you have all those things still, plus video games, podcasts, home video (Blu-ray, Netflix, Youtube, Digital Downloads), apps, social networks and the internet in general. Soon augmented reality/virtual reality as well. Those new technologies being just as disruptive as the older technologies when they first arrived.

Then and only then do you add on top of all of that, the arrival of less expensive video gear.

There are only certain instances now where the masses tune in at a specific time on a certian day to consume the same thing together (Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Avengers films) and even then half the time they’re looking down at their smartphone.
People don’t all have to consume the same content anymore for the most part. We now live in the era of niche content where you can find exactly what you’re looking for. The flip side to that is, you have less eyeballs per niche subject, so the money isn’t there is the numbers aren’t there. But the numbers aren’t there because it’s niche content. Plus those eyeballs consuming that niche content still expect the quality of that content to be as high as what they got in the days of everyone in the nation tuning into the same show at the same time where larger numbers and money did exist.

The battle is not on the upper end with companies like Disney pushing out Avenger movies and making a billion dollars because they have the marketing money to drive eyeballs to their stuff. The battle is on the lower end where guys who would have been washed up because they couldn’t get the budget can now still make something with the cheap price of gear and distribution. But they have to face all these other distractions like video games, social media and so on. It’s a catch 22 on the low end.

Clayton Burkhart Reply
Clayton Burkhart September 23, 2015

The most important point has been missed. What is killing the industry has to do with the misconception that simply because the gear has gotten cheaper therefore the cost of production should also go down proportionally and in exactly the same manner as wekk. The reality is that the costs of paying a crew, talent, logistics and all the other aspects of a production has not changed. Why would it? The equipment is a very small part of the total overall budget of any serious project. I find it very telling the no one spoke about it. Everyone in the interview had a very gear-centric point of view. Quality content has very little to do with gear and everything to do with production values. When we start to view ourselves sa technicians by focusing so much on the gear we devalue what we really do. As a result clients treat us as people who simply execute a command, not as creative individuals with a unique point of view that convey something in a way that cannot be conveyed in the same way by someone else. I am not a camera and my crew is not expendable. So pay us accordingly! If you hire someone who is a beginner in the field, you get what you pay for. So while the prices of certain equipment has gone down, so has the quality of the content that is being produced, rather than the opposite. To put it bluntly there is more crap out there than there ever has been. This is a direct result of this mentality that I speak of. If you pay someone cheaply, you mostly get work that looks cheap, and that is what is killing the industry, more than anything else that I know.

 Andrew Ray Reply
Andrew Ray October 22, 2015

Thought the same thing Clayton. Pre-production costs, more specifically writing good copy, locations, talented crew…these things still cost the same, and always will. There is a deluge of content from people who get an a7s and then think they can make a movie.

Jean-Denis GALVAN September 23, 2015

Strange to bound gear cost and business efficiency. In the case of Avatar for instance, Gear cost in comparison with staff cost, human craftmanship cost, or merchandising cost will be pretty hilarious… I mean, I understand that for small independant filmmaker, gear cost is the first argument for price negociations, but I think that cristalizing personnal skills only in the ability of heavy gears taming, is definitively the wrong way…

Jean-Denis GALVAN September 23, 2015

Roger Waters in PF’s Pompeii video:
“It’s like saying, Give a man a Les Paul guitar and he becomes Eric Clapton. It’s just not true. Give a man an amplifier and a synthesizer and he doesn’t become us either.”

Carlos Martinez September 24, 2015

It’s a pity there seems to be a problem with the video, because I tried on two computers and it stopped about 2 minutes into it.

In any case, I read the comments, and it’s an old discussion. I’m not sure you should blame the low cost of present time gear for the “industry being killed”. We should discuss what that kill really involves first.

But before getting into that we should discuss how much knowledge, theoretical and practical, people handling that “cheap gear” really have. Im aware of just one episode of “House” entirely shot with a DSLR camera(there might be other cases I don’t know of), which I watched on my plasma TV, and you could say nothing abut it quality wise. Why? Because there was a great DP handling it. He certainly tested the gear beforehand and learned where the limits were, and shot around them. That’s a thing amateur people do not seem to grasp.

What dynamic range had the technicolor film, Deluxe color and Eastman film until the 5247 came around.

The content you shot with the gear was the first important thing, then came the handling and the came the gear. John Cassavettes shot his first film in 16mm black & white… on location, not on a studio.

There’s also another thing: other film industries, like French and South Korean, have appeared as serious contenders to the US film industry. So if most people writing here work in the US, yes, I would say, your jobs might be threatened. Not because of cheap gear threatening the industry, but because shooting in the US became too expensive.

Look at most blockbusters credits in the end, and you will found they were shot in Eastern Europe, Asian countries or even Russia.

IMHO they still do one thing wrong, because I believe in small shooting teams, and there are still thousands working on those films.

That makes films really expensive too, and the solution that was found was to shoot in countries where wages are lower.

So I would wonder what is being killed or dying: the industry or the way things are being shot.

Rafael Maduro Reply
Rafael Maduro September 27, 2015

after watching this panel discuss the commoditization of the distribution and content creation i can’t but remember when a vfx person on a SGI machine earning 700$ bucks an hour and maybe a thousand or so professionals doing the craft went to millions of so self proclaimed vfx artist with clone pc and charging cents for creative content, this is the way it goes now, and if we, the content creators don’t adapt and evolve we die faster than a # trend on vine.

Michael Sanders Reply
Michael Sanders October 8, 2015

Yes there is a load of cheap gear, but it requires a professional to know when you can compromise or not. The ultimatte example of this is lenses. There are times when you can shoot with a EF stills lens like the 24 – 70 but there are times when only a Cine lens will work.