Although I will continue to argue that the distribution capacity and capability of a studio in fact defines a studio, this is not the popular starting point. Most look at a studio as a “super producer,” with the financial muscle to create a large range of product. Given consolidation of most TV networks into vertically integrated groups, this range of product is further diversified by primary outlet (e.g., made for film, TV, online).
Although I may refer in some of the examples below to only one category, such as film, the premise often holds across media types, which accentuates the distribution diversity under the broader media groups. Quantity It is instructive to compare a studio to an independent on two basic grounds: quantity of product and average product budget. On these two statistics alone, it would be easy to segment studios. From a pure quantity standpoint, studios have the greatest volume of product.
MPAA member companies collectively tend to release in the range of 200 new feature films per year, and while the total number of independent films released is roughly double that number (~400/year in each of 2006 and 2007 for a total of roughly 600 films/year released in the United States), the independent releases tend to be on a much smaller scale and capture only a sliver of the total box office receipts (even if, as of late, they are capturing more of the awards glory).
(Note: A good example of a top independent, often releasing pictures gaining recognition at film festivals, is Samuel Goldwyn Films.) Viewed from the standpoint of an independent producer, which companies tend to be dedicated to the output of individuals (e.g., a producer or director), even the largest and longest tenured independents are limited to the number of films their key players can handle in a given period.
New Regency, headed by Arnon Milchan, and Imagine, led by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, are two of the largest and most consistently producing independents over the last several years. These two companies, respectively, have distribution output deals with Fox and Universal.