Digital Britain opens up exciting opportunities for film companies - but we must ensure the right environment exists for companies to exploit them, writes Jon Kingsbury.

The vision set out by the recently published Digital Britain report presents many exciting opportunities for film companies, not least the power to reach new audiences and the creation of new businesses through mobile and broadband technology. But it also exposes two issues which need to be addressed urgently.

First, as the pace of adoption of digital technologies increases, business models in the creative industries are becoming outmoded. A reliance on traditional ‘offline’ methods of building and reaching audiences means we are missing new avenues for generating revenue and accessing finance.

Second, while the UK has world-leading creative talent, research suggests we lack business skills and capacity in small, independent film businesses to exploit new growth opportunities.

Digital transition

There is an urgent need to ensure the UK’s independent film sector thrives in the 21st century.

The UK has the largest creative sector in the world relative to GDP, and Nesta forecasts the creative industries in the UK will grow on average by 4% over the next five years, more than double the rate of the rest of the economy. But if the creative sector is not up to speed in its transition to digital markets, we estimate the UK economy stands to lose an annual $9.7bn (£6bn) in value added by 2013.

We will not be able to hold on to our world-leading position and deliver this growth without investing in innovation. And because this is an industry-wide issue, it is important that businesses are given a framework of support to trial new ideas and take calculated risks in order to see what works and, just as importantly, what does not.

With this in mind, Nesta, together with the UK Film Council, launched the Take 12 initiative a year ago to understand how independent film businesses can adapt their business models to address the opportunities and challenges of the digital age for sustained growth. We teamed 12 businesses with ‘innovation partners’ who have helped to devise new digital business models.

Breaking down barriers

Our job over the last 12 months has been to tease out solutions to the barriers to innovation that face the industry. We’re just over half way through the project, but already many findings are emerging which help map out how companies can begin to exploit a digital world (see box, right).

This is just the start. We’ve published a range of emerging findings from Take 12 and we want you to read it, see if it makes sense for your business and engage in the debate.

Experimentation and a spirit of innovation are the only ways we can help independent film companies to navigate a successful business path and unlock the vast potential of a Digital Britain.

Jon Kingsbury is director of the Creative Economy programme at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta). The programme works with more than 300 businesses across the creative industries and identifies the best way for them to grow. He is also a board member of Screen Yorkshire.

Emerging lessons from Take 12

  • Audiences are no longer just ‘viewers’ online, they are participants, authors, publishers - make this work for you. Independent distributor Revolver used online networks to set up an audition process for a film, and 25,000 unique users visited its website - it will already have a fanbase that will play a part in marketing the film on release.
  • Use free tools (such as Google Blog Search and Twitter) to track your campaign by monitoring site visits and bookmarks.
  • Work with digital media companies to understand online sales, marketing and distribution opportunities. The UK’s regional screen agencies can team up film and digital businesses.
  • Sell content to as many platforms as possible and keep the deals non-exclusive or briefly exclusive. This allows you to experiment.
  • Don’t be afraid to get things wrong - there is no perfect online campaign. Take a ‘perpetual beta’ approach which allows you to add new features and to engage your users as real-time testers.

For more on the Take 12 programme visit or go