Culture Matters:

Scotland’s Small Screen Machine Steps Up to Bat with Big Streamers

by Roxanne Powell | May 28, 2021

With movie theaters closed during the pandemic, moviemakers and -goers alike have had to shift their cinematic expectations. This is no different in the isolated Scottish Highlands and Islands. Before lockdown, locals looked forward to an afternoon rental in the Screen Machine, a mobile auditorium that brings “films to people who have no access to a physical cinema.” With the success of Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and other large streaming platforms, and its auditorium parked until further notice, the Leith-based Screen Machine has launched its own streaming platform – Small Screen Machine.

Scotland, SVOD and Lockdown
The pandemic has kept people inside for over a year now, but movies and episodic content have seen an enormous uptick in viewers. According to the BBC, the Ofcom Media Nations reported that, “people in Scotland spent an average of five hours and 46 minutes per day-or 40 hours a week-watching something on a TV screen in April,” a big jump from numbers collected in 2019—an increase of 85 minutes!

“At the beginning of 2020, about 59% of homes in Scotland had a TV connected to the internet through a smart TV or other device such as streaming sticks…. More than half of households in Scotland (56%) had a subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) service from suppliers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and NOW TV.”

With those numbers, it makes sense that Screen Machine started its own streaming platform with a twist-only pay for what you watch!

So, What Is Small Screen Machine?
But what makes Small Screen Machine so unique? According to UK publication iNews, “films can be rented at a cost of between £3.49 and £10 for a 48-hour window.” That’s between $4.95 and $14.19. Creating an account is free, users only pay for the films they watch, and there is an extensive catalogue including movies that originally aired on Disney+, like the Oscar-winner “Nomadland.”

“Lockdown has caused a revolution in people who view films. But with Netflix and Amazon people are overwhelmed by the huge choice.” Robert Livingston, director of Screen Machine’s operator Regional Screen Scotland, said in an interview. “The Small Screen Machine is picked by a team that knows our users interests from the mobile programme…. It’s kept us in touch with isolated communities and it’s also a nice feeling that part of the rental fee is going to support local cinemas during the pandemic.”

With lockdown measures lifting across the globe, Small Screen Machine is looking to expand its reach beyond the islands and “work alongside the mobile auditorium” of its parent company, as well as other Scottish cinemas. In the meantime, cinemas local and abroad are only just opening their doors to a reduced audience capacity.

“We hope to get back up to 80 [audience capacity] soon as the evidence shows there is no argument for two metre social distancing in cinemas,” Livingston said of the main Screen Machine. “It’s a bit lonely with just an audience of 20.”

But what about the other 60 people who can’t get a ticket? That’s where Small Screen Machine comes in! According to the company website, the new streaming service sprang into existence in March 2020, as “an addition to the service that allows us to offer our customers great films in between visits, or the chance to watch a film you might have missed or wasn’t screened in your area.” But even so, the streaming platform is only available to UK residents—or anyone with a VPN.

All of the money collected through the Small Screen Machine streaming service goes back into the company and its supporters: 10% to Shift72 (the streamer’s platform), “a percentage to the film’s distributor (the percentage will vary from film to film,” and the rest to Regional Screen Scotland, which oversees Screen Machine and Small Screen Machine.