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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Nightline: What's happening in Hollywood?

This was the promo for a segment on Hollywood's box office woes from Nightline Monday night:

    You'd think with summer blockbusters raking in millions, the executives in Tinseltown would be feeling good. Trouble is, fewer people are beating a path to the theater. There's high anxiety on the soundstages, as the filmmakers tally up receipts and realize that for a recent 19 weeks in a row, their movies were under-performing compared with last year's numbers. The trend is not good. And one of the concerns is that the gap between a theatrical and DVD release is getting so short that many people are waiting to watch the film at home. In fact, the Motion Picture Association says Americans spent an average of 78 hours watching DVDs last year, that's up 53 percent from 2002. And with the advent of home theatres and specially designed recliners with popcorn and soda holders, Hollywood's anxiety will only grow.

The segment offered two interesting soundbites from a pair of well-known husband-and-wife producers who've been involved with films like "The Ring," "The Island," "Catch Me If You Can," and "Gladiator".

Walter Parkes: "I think the question in everybody’s mind is, is this a temporary state of affairs that came about as the result of a number of pictures that didn’t work, or are we looking at some kind of fundamental shift in the viewing patterns of the audience?"

Laurie McDonald: "We may have to adjust the way we make movies, our budgets, the amount we spend on marketing, how we get them out to that public -- but ultimately people want to get together and sit in that dark room and laugh and cry and have that experience."

Their two perspectives hope for a temporary (not fundamental) shift - one that doesn't hurt producers or studios too much, or force much of a change in strategies. But another summer like this one, and you can forget about gradual...Movie-goers are smart about investing their dollars, and I suspect that they're looking at most of this summer's releases and thinking "rental." Could going out to the movies be on its way to becoming a "special occasion" activity, like going to a live sporting event, a play, or the ballet is today? A four-times a year thing?

Peter Bart, editor of Variety, chimes in: "Long run - sure - fewer people are going to go to see movies at theaters. More people are going to have home theaters and buy DVDs."

Bart observes that studios seem good at ignoring the lessons of unique, charming pictures made on small budgets that break out and do well, like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and this summer's "March of the Penguins."

"Penguins" is "a wonderful example of how something can come out of nowhere and do business," Bart says.