Sunday, January 01, 2006


Dawn of a New Era: Smaller But Immediate

When I was growing up, there were two words marketing experts were sure would attract new customers: bigger and better! But these days, those words don't hold the luster they once did. As 2005 proved, and 2006 is poised to confirm, bigger and better is not necessarily what the new generation of movie lovers want. No wonder the industry was shaking nervously at the fact that King Kong (which many unfairly anointed the all-time boxoffice champ before it even opened!) is not doing as well as they hoped. If Kong can't bring audiences in, where is the motion picture business headed? Then it occurred to me. If audiences could watch King Kong (which director Peter Jackson, obvious created as a labor of love for the BIG screen) on a Video iPod, they would. If they didn't have to drive to a theater and wait on line and pay $10.75 for a ticket, and mortgage their home for some popcorn and soda, but instead download it onto a one-inch screen, they WOULD!! Now, that concept makes me quite sad. King Kong or Gone with the Wind or Titanic or Star Wars or Doctor Zhivago or Reds or Gandhi were never meant to be seen on a one-inch screen. Still, if audiences could have done this, they would have done this. Show business executives are finally admitting publicly that the era of telling viewers when and how they can watch motion picture is over. Variety reports that "the challenges facing film and TV companies in 2006 are old ones: how to grapple with years of shrinking box office admissions and splintering TV ratings; how to capture a mass audience that's fragmenting into millions of niches." I agree. TiVo ended television viewing as we know it. Portable DVD players, Video iPods, and other mobile viewing devices may now end movie watching as we once knew it. For the new generation, it's all about small and immediate. New bytes instead of news. Music videos. iPods. Video games. Cameras on cell phones! Tiny is all they have known. The Big Screen holds little allure any more. And while it laments this fact, the industry doesn't really seem to care. Little to nothing is being done to preserve the moviegoing experience. Business arrangements make it impossible for theaters to survive. Films, (especially the event films Hollywood puts all its money on) are nothing more than commercials for other related products and eventual DVD sales. Even King Kong was used to help sell the NY State Lottery! Some would say there's no turning back. Others would cry that we've gone too far. Still others may argue we have in fact come full circle. After all, didn't the Nickelodeons of yesteryear give audiences small images for a small price? Could the future of the motion picture business be buried in its past? How long before theaters become museums?

One television news magazine highlighted some of the problems you have mentioned. They offered some strategies that theaters were beginning to employ to increase traffic again. Things like multi-plexes with shows starting more frequently to fit into patrons schedules. More food and entertainment options at the theater itself. However, the one strategy that I found most interesting and quite necessary...they intend to hire more ushers. The idea is that the ushers would keep disruptive patrons in line by keeping down talking, excessive running in and out and best of all..minimizing cell phone disruptions!!
Sounds a lot like something I suggested to you a month ago after seeing four different people watching movies on computers and iPods on a train. People brought up on the immediate gratification of IMs and cell phones, I suggested, are running out to buy video iPods because immediacy and portability are more important to them than anything else. You disagreed using Christmas (the only topic you could think about all December!) to prove me wrong. Something about the anticipation of a new movie, the waiting, the communal experience.
Horsefeathers, I thought. (pardon my French). Even though the MP3 stream doesn't have the quality of a CD, much less the still stalled surround formats, downloading is the future of the music industry. Today's generation doesn't care about bigger or better. They want it when they want it, where they want it. The paradigm of going out to a movie is going to go the way of vaudeville sooner than later.
I'm glad you've come around to my way of thinking on this issue.
Sadly, not too long, I fear. But the communal experience of big screen movies won't be snuffed out entirely in my lifetime, I'm pretty sure, even if audience figures are driven down - and ticket prices up - to compare to stage productions.

I wonder if I know Ohio girl...? A long shot I suppose, but I have spent plenty of time in Ohio, and am heading back. And it's where John and Laura of my kindly-showcased-here short John vs. Laura live.
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