Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why The Movie Business May Not Be Doomed

via Atrios, an excellent post by Mark Cuban on why the movie theatres should not fear closing the window between theatre and DVD release:
With the release of Bubble on January 27th in theaters, on DVD and for 2 showings on HDNet Movies, there has been a ton of press and discussion about the future of the movie industry.

THe most extreme has come from John Fithian, who wins the award for the best ever imitation of Jack Valenti’s famous comparison of the VCR to the Boston Strangler when he was quoted in FastCompany as saying: "John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, a trade group based in Washington, DC, called Iger’s suggestion this summer a “death threat” against his members."...

Guess what John, I can whip up a mean steak, but I still like to go to restaurants. Because I enjoy it. I enjoy getting out of the house with family, friends, who ever....

Going to a restaurant. Going to a sporting event. Going shopping. Cabin Fever is alive and well. Wanting to get away from your parents, your kids, your job, your apartment, your house, your problems will never, ever go out of style. For the next thousand years the question will be asked…

What do you want to do tonight ? For the next thousand years, people will want to get the heck out of the house. The question is where to and why.

It didnt take me long to realize that the business of the Mavericks was not selling basketball, it was selling a fun night out and creating a favorable brand identification with our team and our players, with the hope that people would be excited to buy merchandise , products and services from us.

It didnt take me long to realize that the business of Landmark Theaters was very similar. At Landmark, our business is not showing the biggest movies from the biggest studios....Our job at Landmark is to go out and find those movies and to make the experience of watching those movies as unique and enjoyable as possible. It can be the decor of the theater. It might be offering adult beverages before, during and after the film. It may be offering the a DVD selection of the movies director so you dont have to scour the aisles of a huge retailer looking for a title they may not have. It may be offering the soundtrack of the movie, or the book the movie was based on. And starting with Bubble, it will include selling the DVD of the movie you just saw.
There's much more there, but that's the highlights. I'm not sure what to think of Cuban. In every interview I've seen of him, he comes of as a bit of a buffoon. But this post on his blog makes me think otherwise. Of course, someone who refers to themselves as a Maverick (also the name of his basketball team, apparently) doesn't score any points with me.

Atrios mentions that there's a bit of an odd assumption around the idea of leisure - namely that people would ideally choose not to go out if they can get the same experience at home. This is probably true in some cases, but Cuban makes a nice rebuttal above. I'd only point out that the elements of a movie theatre (big screen, big sound) tend to favour blockbuster moviemaking over smaller films. The difference between Syriana on the big screen or the living room TV is much less than the difference between King Kong on the big screen vs. the living room. So we might see simultaneous releases for smaller movies while studios and theatres retain a staggered release for the King Kongs of the movie world.

The one thing that theatres could do that would make me really happy is to jam cellphones, blackberries et al. But the most important thing about moviegoing that has turned me off in the last few times I've gone to one of the larger chains is just how poorly run the theatres are. When I went to go see Harry Potter 4, I nearly attacked the theatre manager because there was zero crowd control and I felt like Vicki and I were about to be trampled. Not to mention that the people who were in line first ended up entering the theatre last. Jeez.

By contrast, most of the smaller theatres I've gone to are neat enough, the prices are more reasonable, and there's rarely a stampede for the seats. That's what endangers the big chains.

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