Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Studios, VOD, movie theaters, and the sudden WTF of it all

This is, like, sooo, 2009 now
This morning I read an article that had me (somewhat) alarmed, from the Wrap by Anonymous (how Joe Klein of him), called "Studios Are Determined to Kill the Film Business."  The main gist of the article is that the studios are now pushing even further the window between a film's release in theaters and its at-home viewing form people.  While the window for release dates on video have been shortening over time (or VOD as it's now called, back in my day as I sit here in my rocking chair we called it 'Pay-Per-View', but I digress), this is a bold new step from the studios, and possibly quite dangerous on their end.

But at the same time that, sure, some people may want to stay at home watching the new movies that are out... albeit still two months after their initial release (ah, dear reader with your own personally made theater system, there's the rub), what will this do for theaters themselves?  I'll get to that in a minute, and what is already the retaliation coming about from that.

Want!  .... kinda

What about TV itself, that whole model?  I can mostly speak from personal experience and from people that I know, but staying at home and watching a film and going out - and I mentioned this a little before in a previous blog back in December about talkers in movies - are two different things.  Of course, yes, there is a comfort zone at staying home, but I might argue there can be distractions in that same space that might not be (in ideal conditions of course) at a theater, and also the space of the screen is not quite the same... unless, naturally, you happen to be lucky and have the fortunes for a gigantic big screen and/or digital projector and/or a room you can make your own studio.  With my current income that isn't quite a possibility for me, so the theater experience is still key for me, not to mention the whole thing of, you know, going to a theater itself.

Not to mention on the end of the creators of the work and distributors there's a difference.  As the Anonymous blogger writes in the shadows of his cinematic-bat-cave of blogging:

"The TV movie model does not support the economics of a major feature film.  It is the theatrical release that makes a movie a movie and builds the momentum and interest that enables it to gross over a billion dollars. For a major worldwide hit, it is also the largest contributor to the profits of a movie. Don’t be fooled by “retail” numbers.  Home video was a very big retail number but the share to the studios was around 35 vs. 60 percent for a major hit in the movie theater.

Further, a major theatrical hit has an unlimited upside while a major video hit is intrinsically limited. Video and television are great for catalog, but they do not fund a front line release schedule -- for that you need the movie theater with its higher per capita income and greater share to the studio."

Now, to be sure, this might be the same model for ALL movies.  Certainly the film I'm planning right now to shoot this year- decidedly "indie" in both its content and its making and potential distribution as a model product- would actually gain *more* in the VOD and DVD sales than in a theater, where it could have a good but limited run in cities and indie film markets.  But as far as Hollywood films fly, it's a model that I have to be somewhat skeptical about. 

Studios to audience: "Yeah, that's all well and good you're there in 3D, but what about at home?  Eh, eh?!
For one, people who want to go see a movie opening weekend or the weekend after or whatever (or even during a weeknight if one really wants to be a thrill-seeker), they'll go see them then.  This should go without saying that since movies have been bumped up little by little from their to-home release dates (it used to be six months when I was younger, now it's more like three-four months, five tops) it has probably encroached on the box-office figures anyway.  The logic isn't beyond me, and I'm sure I've practiced it with certain films even out right now - No Strings Attached, I'm lookin' at you - that 'why go out to see a movie that will cost 9, 10, even 13(!) bucks, when I can wait for it to rent on DVD or possibly stream on Netflix or - dun-dun-dun - REDBOX!

Yes, another thing I almost neglect to mention that the Anonymous writer didn't already is the "Coke-Machine" system that is basically killing off the film rental places like Blockbuster.  Fine, you might say, fuck em, serves Blockbuster right for having 20 copies of the latest Asylum DVD release and NO Criterion copies.  And sure, Redbox is an important factor here, but in reality one has to go right back to the theatrical film release thing, and what the SUPER-FAST VOD service means... a 10% drop in film attendance(?)

"The reality is that a 10 percent drop in total attendance, across the board and permanent, will cause 2/3 of all the theaters in the U.S. to close their doors and never open again.... The lack of knowledge of the economics of the theaters is stunning – but it pales in comparison to the lack of interest in hearing any point of view other than their own (re: the studios).  What is true is that the studios fucked up the video business deliberately and with full knowledge. They were told by every video store chain that $1/day Coke machines dispensing videos would kill the bricks and mortar video stores....

"When Hollywood and Blockbuster shut their stores studio revenue dropped immediately by $ billions.  The public’s demand didn't drop by that amount and in fact the volume of video rentals was increasing when this took place, but with increasing volume at 40 percent of the price the stores could not be profitable. The exigencies of a retail business dictate that when revenue drops below the break-even point the entire store closes, not 10 percent of it."

All I can see are millions of Theater-Zombies roaming the landscapes looking for flesh film print-meat

In other words, some heavy shit.  

In my years of just living and watching things happening around me, already I've seen theaters close, and only one significant new one open near me: the Garden State Plaza 16-Googolplex at the Paramus mall (when, of course, the *other* big cineplex, the Route 4 ten-plex, was too far from the other small Bergen Mall).  Over the years theaters have just closed - don't believe me, check out this ridiculously amazing site that features every movie theater that's ever existed past and present, though again I somewhat digress - and there have only been a handful that have been opened as new ones, mostly at malls.  And the crazy thing is that even if, arguably, people just aren't wanting to go out to the movies, what about rentals?  That's high, or even higher, than ever.

But, again, the writer stresses the 10% drop as being what will "CLOSE theaters."  It is basically a situation of the studios trying to strong-arm their way to do whatever they want, or for the nervous studio execs to say "ah, see see, technology, ah, people can stay at home, let's recoup that way."  And in the meantime theaters, which in some cases aren't doing moviegoers favors with concessions and sometimes crappy projection and 'sticky floors', are getting cut out by the people who will increasingly go "ah, it'll be out in two months, not three, fuck it, let's go bowling."

As Howard Hughes might say, "The wave of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future...."

But would this work for a big-fuck blockbuster like Transformers, or Pirates of the Caribbean?  So what if they're available two months after for $30, when it's more feasible, even if the costs don't quite align, to take the family to these movies when they're fresh out in theaters, or possibly in the summer-months while out on vacation or needing something to do.  When it comes to big bullshit roller coaster rides of movies, people want them right away and FAST.  And, to quote, "The main advantage movie theaters have in the marketplace is that movie-going remains the single cheapest thing a family or couple can do on a night out of the house."  At least, relatively, depends on the family really or what the movie-going entails. 

Thankfully, already as of this posting, the theaters are already strategizing to not give in to the studios and how quickly they want to fuck them out of money.  In an article written by Brett Lang and Daniel Frankel on the same site The Wrap:

"Among the retaliatory measures that exhibitors are weighing:
* Pulling the trailers of offending studios.
* Cutting in-theater signage for those studios’ movies.
* Renegotiating the split of box-office revenues for films that are released on VOD.

Theaters may even refuse to carry a studio's film, according to an individual with knowledge of exhibitors’ thinking."

Aha!  That will show the studio, trying to put out yet ANOTHER Fast and the Furious sequel.  We see what you're doing with The Rock and his evil goatee!

Like the end of LaMotta/Sugar Ray, Movie theaters to Studios: "You never got me down!" 

But yet, another opinion in the same article, with a cooler head and something that hasn't been considered yet as I write this: 

"Despite the rising tempers, analysts believe that abbreviating windows will have a minimal impact on box office. For instance, the top 25 biggest grossing 2010 theatrical releases had done 95 percent of their total box office by their sixtieth day in theaters, notes Marla Backer, a media analyst at Hudson Square Research.  "At this price point, [VOD] is not going to make much difference," Backer said."

So it goes, perhaps it is a little too fast to go riling up any pitchforks with this issue.  Unless a film is like Avatar- or in a more "indie" case The King's Speech (which has turned into another ball of wax I'd rather not pick apart here)- a film does what it does based on the current model of distribution with fast-fast-fast numbers.  Studios AND exhibitors are still, I would think, on the same page about how a film that's newly released and has tens-to-hundreds of millions of dollars behind it should recoup it's money.

Of course it might be nice if films could perform like they did in the "old" days, building more on word of mouth and steadily increasing their profits over months in release, though that can't be the case when NOW is YESTERDAY for a lot of movie studio execs and even exhibitors who have so many films coming at them (on multiple screens no less) that if a film doesn't perform well enough that it needs to get dumped faster than yesterday's breakfast.

The other thing I have to think regarding the issue is, really, how many people would even be aware of the $30 VOD service available 2 months after release?  And there is still, maybe, possibly a need for people to own a physical copy of the film, which would then be out just a month or so after the two-month VOD release at a cheaper price of $15.  The bigger issue here, which the Anonymous writer goes so passionately about, is that drop that will happen- there's no reversing this decision as a "point" one as the writer points out, whatever that means- and will affect so many movie theaters that are still struggling to get people in.

kinda see the difference now between watching on TV and a movie theater?

 Perhaps in a bigger-world way this is just leading people who like entertainment into their homes when they just want to go out and have a good time, perhaps in some part for the good and in some part (i.e. the reason to see a movie is to get out of the house for a couple of hours) not so good.  Whether that leads to a night of bullshit at a theater full of loud and obnoxious is not quite relevant to this discussion;n it's the principle of having the choice of a theater or a premium-VOD thing, and that's what the studios are encroaching on.  I would still go for the theater... but, again, the film in question would be a factor, not to mention $30 for a film on VOD premium.  Really?  When's the last time anyone paid that much for a single film, and with no special features no less?

All these questions and more continue on in The Tangential Film-Mind of Jack Gattanella, currently screening for one, which is... me.  But what do you think?


More about how this came out just during the CinemaCon convention last week... awkward

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