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"... film is best considered simply as one stage in the ongoing history of communications."

                                                                        -James Monaco

What we were looking for:


What we thought we would find:

There are certain types of programs which have a very blatant "film look" or "video look", and in these instances we thought that viewers would be able to tell which medium they were viewing. We had hypothesized that viewers who saw parallel film and video-based programming would prefer film even if they did not know which was which.


What we found:

In Study I, participants attending a multi-media performance watched parallel film-originated and video-originated programming on two large screen video projection systems. When asked which screen showed the film and which screen showed video, 50% were right and 50% were wrong. Viewers overall, wanted to believe that they preferred film, even when what they thought was film was actually video.

Study II consisted of 2 viewing sections and a depth interview. While viewing a series of thirty-second program clips, mass audience and expert samples were asked to write down if each was originally produced in film or video. Most often they used content to determine their answers. Very few seemed to use the look or feel of the piece and, given the programming, it was hard to isolate oneself from these other factors. Then they saw the same parallel program that was shown to the viewers in Study I, this time on two identical TV monitors. Most were able to say which was film and which was video. Subjects wanted to prefer film and chose it more often.

When asked to articulate the difference between the "film look" and the "video look", most subjects found it hard to describe. On the whole, viewers do see a difference but mass audience and experts alike have a difficult time pinpointing what that difference is.

Asked if they preferred movie theatres or television, the majority of viewers chose the theatre for screen size, environment, the higher picture quality, newer material and the fact that it is a social event.


Future Research:

There are many variables yet to be covered in this area of research. Format is relevant to content. With varying content one can either "get away with" using one format or the other; or use it for a specific purpose or effect.

Although the parallel programming approach was fairly successful, viewers' perceptions were colored by preconceived biases of which medium they thought belonged to a particular content type, i.e. news is shot in video. Given the high content influence over viewers' perceptions and preferences, it is important to conduct further research in this area. A series of studies should be conducted using multiple parallel shot programs and spanning a range of content types, (let's start with ten) and we should shoot them in 35mm, NTSC and HDTV. Possibly we should aim for 65mm film also. With film we will shoot at 24, 30 and 60 fps. This has the potential to yield significant insights into audience perceptions, as well as on the varying aesthetic impact of different production formats and technologies.

In future studies, it would make sense to use clips from non-specific programming. It's very difficult to get to the bottom of the "look" with the historical and other factors coming into play. Another method is to show the viewers parallel footage without cueing them that one is film and one is video.


The Future:

Why not wait for a state of the art solution for a new TV standard? All things considered, it appears that content has more to do with what someone will watch, than which medium it is produced in. When rushing into a quick decision we may make an unwise choice, rather than exercising patience and waiting for an option that will settle with us much better for the long haul. NTSC as we know it has been with us for 35 years and the next standard will probably stay around for awhile. We should wait for state of the art, instead of replicating inefficient technologies, as in the case of 1125-line HDTV. Viewers will not mind the wait; they do mind buying new technology and having it become obsolete.

Title | Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4