The 401st Blow :: Thoughts On Media

By The Numbers: The Rise And Fall Of Online Video And Independent Film

Posted in Data Analysis by Noah Harlan on February 15, 2009

**UPDATE** Some of the charts (the line charts, not the regional graphs) below were originally not stored locally (ie: I was referencing them on google) and, unfortunately, google’s charts seem to be evolving for no apparent reason. Thus, looking at these charts is slightly different than the charts used when originally composing this post. I’m going to replace the dynamic links with screenshots but my original data sets seem slightly different. I stand by everything below but it’s the charts are a little uglier.

There has been a lot of talk about the end of independent film. Conferences at Sundance and articles like this and this (often featuring Mr. Gill). But most are just postulating. Here are some interesting charts I put together with Google Trends just to see where things are headed.

**UPDATE** Scott Macaulay makes the very good point about units of comparison: “”Streaming video” and “online video” both refer to delivery mechanisms, whereas independent film is most probably being used to refer to a class of film. Certainly people searching for “online video” could be searching for ways to see independent film online. Or are you assuming that online video is referring exclusively to short form work?”

I recognize the problem Scott raises and that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t delve too deeply into analysis of the data. That being said, I am trying to track here how these ideas are related in popularity as memes and not as alternatives to each other. Scott is correct that two are delivery methods and one is a class of film but it’s not completely without merit to compare the interest in methods of delivery with interest in a class of film – and we see that as interest in certain methods of delivery have increased, interest in a certain class of film has decreased – that does not say that there is a causal relationship, only a loose correlation.

This first chart compares searches for the term “independent film” (in red) and “online film” (in blue). You can see the slow descent of independent and then, in 2007, the rise of online film.

"independent film" vs. "online film"

Independent Film vs. Online Film

Here is the same chart but this time adding in “streaming video” (in orange). You can see that in late 2008, for the first time, “online film” briefly overtook “streaming video”.

"Independent Film" vs. "Online Film" vs. "Streaming Video"

Independent Film vs. Online Film vs. Streaming Video

Here is a chart looking at search volume for “cinema” (orange), “film” (blue), and “video” (red). While I’m not surprised by the relative levels, and there is not much change in search volume revealing trends, what is fascinating are the spikes. It appears that ALL THREE values spike each year around December. I don’t have a reason why, other than that is when the better releases tend to be clustered and the year-end ‘best of’ lists, but it is interesting. Also, what was with the massive spike in late 2006 for “video”?

Cinema vs. Film vs. Streaming Video

Cinema vs. Film vs. Streaming Video

Now, if we dive into those numbers for the US we can see some interesting data. Below are US Maps, showing search volume, 2004-present, for the following terms:

“independent film”
"independent film"

“online film”
"online film"

“streaming video”
"streaming video"

Again, I’m not going to try to divine too much but the data speaks volumes by itself. The distribution of either interest or awareness (probably more the former but they are clearly related) is vastly more distributed for streaming video than for either online film or independent film. Now, to normalize that information for any difference between simply the words “film” and “video” here are those charts:



Interestingly enough, those terms seem to have relatively similar, and even, distribution (allowing that video is more heavily searched than film). So, there are some stats. I still think the feature film is not dead though.


3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Alejandro Adams said, on February 15, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    What an incredibly thorough look at web video growth patterns. I am the least literal-minded person you’ll ever meet but even I can tell you that these ubiquitous panels and pronouncements need more statistics, more market analysis, and less “visionary” posturing around impotent buzzwords.

    I congratulate you for the meticulous execution here, which accompanies a noble sentiment.

  2. Vinay Singh said, on February 18, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I agree that there might not be too much to divine about the fate of independent film from these charts, but I do applaud your attempt to inject some hard data into the discussion. I was curious to know what the trends for independent film look like if we use the name by which everyone I know (that doesn’t work in the biz) refers to motion pictures: “movies”. Here are the results:

    Relative to each other, not too interesting. “Independent film” actually beats out “independent movie”. And “movie” by itself beats “film”. But what I find most interesting is that the overall searches for independent cinema, whether we call it movies or films, has dropped dramatically. Why is that? Has independent film lost its relevance? I sure hope not. Have mini-majors bastardized the term to that point that it’s meaningless? Maybe. Or has interest in independent cinema become diluted by the glut of other crap out there–from reality TV to the onslaught of Hollywood blockbusters and remakes? Probably.

    Here’s to hoping Mark Gill is right about at least one thing: we return to making “fewer” movies and making them “better”.

  3. nharlan said, on February 18, 2009 at 6:05 pm


    Thanks for the input. I think that the term “independent movie” is probably not the best gauge seeing as how it is bastardization of a ‘genre’ title. While I admit that the comparison is a little absurd, it’d be like looking at searches for “noir movie” as opposed to “film noir” – it will have some relevance but the low search volume probably mitigates its value.

    That being said, your point about declining interest and the charts you cite both reinforce the points above that something is happening and fewer people are searching these terms. I suspect you’re right about the distraction factor, and I think that the term is too vague. There have been many people who’ve discussed this, so I’m far from original when I ask: what is independent? Mostly, it’s a loose genre label I suspect.

    I’m working on a piece thinking about what the effects of fewer films would be so check back as it should be interesting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: