They call it the Martini culture. Harking back to an iconic advertisement of the 1970s, the idea is that today's consumer wants to be entertained 'any time, any place, anywhere'.

It is the sexier big sister of the more prosaic term ICE (information, communication and entertainment), coined in India during the dotcom boom to denote a marriage of information technology and entertainment.

And to an extent, both dreams have come true. It is barely possible to walk 100m in a city in any developed country without seeing the distinctive white earphones of an iPod. Mobile gaming is expanding quickly and telephones have lost their dowdy role as a means of speaking to people, to become portable electronic leisure centres.

For film, progress has been slower. Some of that is technical - at present it takes hours to download a movie but seconds for a pop song - but there is little else that makes the Martini culture unfeasible. All the IT ducks are now in a row but the mainstream business is not doing much shooting, because no-one has yet figured out how they can make as much money out of the new world as they have from the old.

The consumer has not rejected progress, but no-one wants to give it to them ... yet.


It is easy to forget the pace at which the ubiquitous leisure society has developed.

Back in the 1980s, small towns around the world might be lucky to have a one or two-screen cinema; families would crowd into the living rooms for the big movie on television; and home entertainment might have to involve a conversation. Now DVD is essentially any-time viewing; cable allows the creation of our own television schedules; and the multiplex has increased the number of (mostly studio) films on offer.

Mobile viewing may be limited by screen size and habit in most of the world, though it has been more enthusiastically embraced in Asia. But laptops, mini DVD players and mobile devices have become an accepted part of the commute - extending the reach of film still further. So one can literally watch a movie at any time of day, yet the industry remains peculiarly tied to time limits, particularly in the world of exhibition.

The opening weekend retains a kind of tyranny over theatres. Those opening few days dictate the pace of the industry; success at the box office is judged by the first weekend's performance. One of the big hopes for digital cinema is that it will open up the rest of the week to commerce, doing away with what might be called weekend binge cinema.

Bud Mayo, CEO of D-cinema pioneer Access IT, believes the inescapable truth that should be driving digital rollout is that 'nobody is in a theatre for the most part Monday to Thursday'.

Perhaps the time limit that has received most attention, however, is the gap between theatrical launch and DVD release. It is, of course, an entirely artificial construct. The gap did not reach three months, as some argue, because it is the optimum level for marketing. It is there as a result of years of lost battles between exhibitors and distributors that has seen the old two-year window whittled down.

The three-month window is the final stop - after that, there is to all intents and purposes no gap at all.

Dr Phil Clapp, recently appointed CEO of the UK Cinema Exhibitors' Association, said theatres are convinced that at that point their business is seriously threatened, if not impossible. 'For the vast majority, it is a line if the sand,' he says. So we are now in a period of uneasy truce that will inevitably be challenged at some time.

It is not the only window. The whole industry is rethinking the time between DVD release and other media launches. Warner Bros in the UK, for example, has now shifted to day-and-date launches on disk and VoD. Among the first films being road-tested for the new release strategy in the UK are The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (one day after its DVD release) and Beowulf (15 days after DVD release).

'By being the first in the UK to make some of our movies available on the same day to buy on DVD and to rent/access digitally, we and our partners are helping to satisfy growing consumer desire from our customers to see what they want, how, where and when they want it,' says Josh Berger, president and managing director of Warner Bros.

The trick is to find the balance between protection of falling DVD revenues and potential growth in new media.

And all the time, our Martini consumer is asking for more.


Asked about his post-war foreign policy in 1945, British foreign minister Ernest Bevin declared his policy was that one should be able to buy a ticket at London's Victoria station and go anywhere he pleased.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, that dream is not so far from reality. But the notion that you should be able to pay for any film you want to see regardless of borders has not kept pace with international geopolitics. The film business is still tied to national boundaries in this most fundamental respect: movies are bought and sold for individual territories.

The only way a rights holder can capitalise their content is to go through distributors buying for local markets. Any attempt to change that approach will require a wholesale restructuring of the business.

The problem is not unrecognised. The simple fact that even some critically acclaimed films cannot be seen by audiences unless they travel to film festivals is clearly inefficient.

Two solutions are vying for attention. One is from the new-media pioneers. Video-on-demand services such as Jaman and Babelgum are offering a global service which, like the internet itself, does not recognise national boundaries.

Consumers do not understand the restrictions which look like simple protectionism. The problem is that the economics of the industry are so tied into parcelling territories that they are not willing to sell global rights online. These restrictions are also enshrined in national laws and regulations.

What it means is the online plans of Apple, for example, or, founder outside the US because they have to negotiate a complex jumble of laws, regulations and licences. 'We have an ambition to be global and bring the world's content into local markets,' says Hulu CEO Jason Kilar. 'We'll have to assemble the rights on a market-by-market basis and that takes time, but we're hard at work on it.'

But he adds pointedly: 'Unauthorised versions of content are generating zero dollars. People will find it with or without you and you can get a fine return that can even be better than prime time.'

What Kilar alludes to is the painful fact copyright theft is playing a big role in creating the Martini culture. If a business gap appears, it will be illegal services that step in to fill the void and that can be habit-forming, particularly for young people.

Ways around restrictions in online broadcast of sport, for example, are easily found online and more and more people now know how. As new-media commentator Cory Doctorow puts it: 'It will never be harder to copy films from the internet than it is right now.'

The more legitimate solution to national boundary restrictions, and one with far greater potential to succeed, is to acquire the means of production and distribution.

The Hollywood studios, of course, already have that muscle and most are now looking to extend the power for multinational distribution to the independent market, producing and distributing film in local markets for potentially wider distribution.

Other players have realised they need to go down the same route - Tarak Ben Ammar, for example, announced at Berlin ambitious plans to produce films that will play in a number of countries through distributors his company has bought or with which he has an alliance.


The greatest progress of all has come in the media on which we can see films. Downloading to multiple devices is a reality.

The good news for the business is that the demand is clearly there. One might even argue the scale of movie piracy proves people want the product.

What is more, the number of businesses that want to service the demand by putting film in front of consumers is huge. From supermarket giants such as Wal-Mart to telephone providers, everyone wants a piece of the action.

Someone has a plan for anywhere we could possibly want to see a film, and the culture is adapting to take advantage.

While it is true that in Western countries in particular, transferring downloaded files to television is considered essential, younger consumers seem far more agnostic. Revenues for mobile video are expected to reach $1bn by 2010 in Japan alone, according to digital communications analyst In-Stat.

The ability of videogame consoles, particularly Sony's PlayStation, to play downloaded Blu-Ray titles opens up a new avenue for distribution.

The scale of take-up can catch the market by surprise: for example, the BBC's free iPlayer service in the UK - which allows consumers to download recently screened content - has been so successful that internet service providers are complaining the downloading of 42 million programmes has put intolerable strain on bandwidth, requiring an upgrade of the infrastructure.

Two points, however, need to be considered: not all of the would-be providers of 'anywhere' content can win in their respective markets; and there will be a battle for dominance.

This month's acquisition by high-street video-rental retailer Blockbuster of set-top box manufacturer Circuit City has highlighted the living room will become the arena for a fight to the death. There are only so many consoles that will be tolerated. The next-generation DVD format war, won after a protracted fight by Sony's Blu-Ray, is a precursor of what is to come.

Customers do not give a damn about business realities; they will buy into a service that is convenient and cheap, as they have with iTunes.

In other words, the Martini culture is already here in spirit; the challenge for business is how to cost-effectively keep pace with ever more demanding consumers.