The Cuban/Wagner Report
If it seems like I write pretty frequently here about Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, and what they're up to at Landmark Theaters, 2929 Entertainment, and HDNet, you're right. But that's because their experiments are some of the most interesting things happening in the movie business right now.
So a few pre-holiday items about the duo...
- I've got a piece in the current issue of Fast Company titled `Maverick Mogul'. The subhead is, "As he builds his own digital version of the vertically integrated movie studio, Broadcast.com founder Mark Cuban is questioning everything about the business--and naturally ticking a lot of people off."
- You may also want to read (or listen to) two of the interviews I did with Cuban as part of my reporting of the story. Here's the transcript of a conversation we had back in July. And here's the audio (mp3) of a second conversation we had in October. (The quality isn't the greatest, but it is listenable. I'll also note that it wasn't intended as a podcast, so the questions jump around a bit. This was simply a working recording that I made for the Fast Company article.)
- As I was working on the Fast Company piece, Cuban and Bill Banowsky, who runs Landmark, seemed to be getting increasingly frustrated that while they'd committed to buying six of Sony's new, high-res 4K digital projectors - Landmark was the first US cinema chain to do so - Sony was missing its delivery targets. (In our first conversation, in July, Cuban said that he hoped the first three projectors would be in place by the end of the summer.) As the fall dragged on, there were hints that Landmark was also considering installing some 2K projectors from other manufacturers; this was probably intended to light a fire under Sony.
I'm now told that Landmark has received at least two of the Sony 4K projectors. From Cuban, via e-mail, on December 5th: "installations are in progress. We have installed our first 4ks and continue to install and test. Nothing final till these are battle tested." I don't think that negates the possibility that Landmark could also install some 2K projectors. Sony doesn't have an exclusive.
- Finally, Randall Stross wrote about Cuban in last Sunday's New York Times. The article was titled, "Is Mark Cuban Missing the Big Picture?" I didn't link to it at the time because I didn't think it broke any new ground. Stross writes, "[Cuban's] rationale for making hugely expensive investments in Landmark Theaters, the art-house chain owned by 2929 Entertainment, seems dangerously ungrounded in reality."
Stross makes three points that I think are wrong.
First is that people won't notice the difference between today's 35 millimeter projectors and 4K digital. I think he's wrong, and would be curious if he has ever seen a 4K digital projection. (I suspect not.)
Second is that he seems to think that as home theaters improve, there's no reason for out-of-home theaters to survive. That's an assumption that geezers make as they age and find going to the movies more of a hassle; young people are still eager to have their own place outside the home.
Third is that Stross seems to think that Cuban should have just waited until companies like Technicolor or Christie/AIX offered to install digital projectors in his theaters for free, rather than paying for them out of his own pocket. Two problems there - those projectors would most likely be 2K, not 4K, and also, neither company has shown much interest (yet) in working with art house chains like Landmark. They're more interested in mainstream multiplexes.
Even more interesting, I think, than Stross' article are two responses to it Cuban posted on his blog. He doesn't really lay out his points of disagreements with Stross - but instead opens fire with both guns. Here's the first entry and here's the second.
I don't think Stross has a blog, but I'm offering him space here if he'd like to respond or start a conversation.