How Digital cameras have disrupted the creative industries;

November 16, 2017

Disruptive technologies are taking the creative industries by storm, across press, music film, TV, fashion, advertising and others.  Below, the impact of the disruption of the film industry through the introduction of the digital camera is discussed and how this disruption will impact story-telling, business models and power structures in the future.

The theory of 'Disruptive Innovation ' as defined by Christensen is: ‘Disruptive Innovation describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors’.

The arrival of the digital camera and how it disrupted filmmaking.

In 1969, George Smith and Willard Boyle came up with the idea for the Charged Couple Device and the first CCD chip was created.  In the 1990s small cameras began recording digitally.

Prior to the digital camera, shooting on film was the only way of making films.  They were expensive, cumbersome and complicated and required specialist training and skills to operate. This meant it was impossible for smaller producers to make films independently. Thus not only were films being made by those with the finance within the country but it also meant they were being made by only a few countries. Thus only one viewpoint, one story, one history was being told.

The introduction of the digital camera allowed filmmaking to be more accessible to people with smaller budgets, it made filmmaking more flexible and personal.  This meant people to whom the industry had been closed before could now make their own films and tell their own stories.

Therefore, a car mechanic in Nigeria could buy a digital camera and produce a film solidifying the birth and growth of a $3.3 billion industry, the 3rd largest in the world today.

Whilst the large Hollywood studios were busy protecting the holy grail of film and filmmaking, others were looking at how to use the camera to tell their stories the way they wanted to rather than be limited by the current technology.  The incumbents regarded digital cameras as below standard--In the documentary' 'Side by Side' in which Keanu Reeves interviews filmmakers about this issue, Director, Christopher Nolan says '... it is sad see cameras recording imagery in an inferior way'.  He adds that he will '...not trade in his oil painting for a set of crayons.

In 2002, George Lucas produced 'Attack of the Clones' solely on digital cameras. According to David Stump VFX DOP, Lucas was called 'the devil incarnate who would destroy their jobs and the industry. It meant he went around the entire film community but he also went around film itself.  It was a really polarising time’. 

Digital technology meant that a film called ' Birth of a Nation' produced in 1915 and called 'the mot racist film ever made'  could be remade by a black man in 2016 from a different perspective. 
This technology has changed business models and processes. The Vice President of Arri,(a company which manufactures cameras) said that 33mm film production peaked in 2007 when their factory was producing at 110% capacity but he says now 'new purchases are all digital'. 

Instead of films being produced solely by studios and screened in massive cinemas

Producers can make their films and use platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and Netflix to share or screen them disrupting distribution business models by bringing their products straight to the marketplace for free or for a fee.

Now people no longer even need to buy a digital camera.  People can make films, documentaries and tell their stories via their mobile phone.  The technology of visual storytelling is now accessible on devises as small as pens or glasses.  This has shifted the balance of power. People have choices in not only how they will produce and tell their own stories but in also how they will consume their media.
A world which was defined by the standards and stories told and proliferated by Hollywood run mainly by white men now finds it has the power to tell its own stories in the palm of its hands.  And so with an alternative to the use of heavy and expensive and inaccessible filmmaking and film processing more and more filmmakers will continue to make films around the globe defining their own reality, telling their own stories and providing a plethora of diversity and choice.

Disruptive Innovation in filmmaking technology has forever changed the way the film industry works.  It will continue to do so and provide easier and cheaper ways of storytelling and the platforms through which they are consumed.  Can the bigger studios faced by this disruption innovate to take advantage of this change and stay ahead of the game or will they continue to do what they have always done and hope they are around for a while longer before the inevitable happens and they do become dinosaurs?


Originally submitted for
Executive MBA for the Creative Industries
Ashridge Business School 2017


Impact of the digital technologies on the creative industries by Mike Pinder. Retrieved from
A study on the disruption of news media by Columbia University entitled Post Industrial Journalism, adapting to the present by C W Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky. Retrieved from
SIde by Side 2012 Documentary! Retrieved from
How Tech Has Shaped Film Making: The Film vs. Digital Debate Is Put to Rest Retrieved from
The Triumph of Digital Will Be the Death of Many Movies. The 35mm reel is slowly shuffling off this mortal coil By Helen Alexander and Rhys Blakely. Retrieved from
When and how the film business went digital. By Stephen Follws. Retrieved from
Creative Capacities of Developing Countries By Alessandra Meleiro Retrieved from
Cinema and New ehnologies, Video Filmmaking in West Africa by S Benagre PHD Retrieved from

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