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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Queuing: The Importance of a String Around the Finger, or a Digital PostIt Note

I had coffee this morning with Gary Meyer, the extremely-sharp movie industry guru who co-founded Landmark Theatres, and is now running the Balboa Theater here in San Francisco, as well as the annual Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.

As were were wrapping up our conversation, Gary made an interesting observation about Netflix, in the vein of a gripe. Try going to Netflix today, and looking up the Pixar movie `Ratatouille,' he suggested. You'll have the option of adding it to your Netflix queue, even though the movie won't be released until June 2007. What is the impact on theaters? As Gary sees it, you can decide that you want to watch a movie on DVD before it has even reached the theaters. Doesn't that naturally reduce the urgency you'll feel to try to get out and see a movie during its theatrical run? If you miss it, it'll eventually show up in your mailbox, in one of those cardinal-colored envelopes. Gary mentioned that he'd spoken to people who receive the Balboa's monthly printed calendar in the mail, which has excellent descriptions of the movies that'll be playing there, and use it to circle the movies that look interesting. Do they necessarily come to the Balboa? Not always. Many times, they just add those movies to their Netflix queue.

We're all familiar with the concept of queueing, whether we realize it or not. On Amazon, you can put products in your shopping cart, and then save them for later (or create a wish list, which enables other people to buy them for you). That's a kind of queue: stuff I'd like, but don't necessarily need right now. On YouTube, if you don't want to watch a long-ish video right now, you can save it to your favorites, and come back later. Another queue. If you've got a TiVo, and someone tells you that there's a Tony Bennett special coming up, or a new Comedy Central series that you might be interested in, you can easily instruct your TiVo to record it; TiVo then presents it to you on the "Now Playing" page, which is a kind of content queue.

At a moment when our choices are starting to seem infinite and a bit overwhelming, whether it involves buying a CD or book from Amazon or spending a couple minutes watching a particular YouTube video, queues help us organize the stuff we're interested in. Queues are like a string tied around the finger, or way of sticking a digital PostIt note on something we want to remember.

Companies like Netflix have an advantage over the independent cinema and even the chain multiplex, unfortunately, because they make it easy for us to eventually watch that movie we've put on our queue. (If you add `Ratatouille,' be assured that eventually, around December 2007, that DVD will show up in your mailbox.) Amazon has an advantage over my neighborhood bookstore, because I've got half a dozen books sitting in my Amazon shopping cart, waiting to eventually be bought.

What could non-Internet businesses do? Look for opportunities to help people create queues. (Often, this involves some level of software expertise.) What if I could go to an independent cinema's Web site after I'd seen their calendar, and mark the movies I wanted to be reminded about? I might get an e-mail the day they opened, along with some links to online reviews. What if a multiplex incentivized me with a free popcorn, or $1 off a ticket, if I pre-purchased a ticket today to a movie coming out on Christmas Day that I'd expressed interest in? (Already, I'm getting accustomed to printing out my own tickets at home.) Studios let you watch a trailer on their sites...couldn't they also ask you whether you wanted to add a movie's debut date to your Google or Outlook calendar?

It seems like making it easier for people to remember and return to things they want to see or buy is becoming a core competency for every business.

Your thoughts?


  • People will always eventually want to leave their house. People are habitual. People like experiencing things communally (as long as the distractions are minimized). All of these play in favor of venues. If I owned a theater (or chain), my main goal would be to create a film going community. Not unlike the YouTube quip "We're not selling ads, we're building a community." But making that the primary goal would, I believe work.

    There are a group of people who can go to a 2pm showing of a movie. Many can't, but the ones that can, have something in common probably (in additin to locality and an interest in films). I would use the web to try to form a film going community - whether it was based on my own servers with freely avaialble community software or within an existing larger community (youtuve, myspace,, friendster, evite, google, etc etc etc etc)

    All of this would be intended to make it "the thing" the weekly movie going.

    I think the future of cinema will be shorter runs of more various movies and this would tie in. It's the bonus of digital in someways. Then each screening becomes a marketable event.

    For example, the spiritual cinema (think "what the bleep", not "passion") market is exploding with people passionate about their genre. I'm not seeing any theater's harnessing that and making their own communities.

    Has this been done before? Of course, think midnight movies or "the rocky horror picture show."

    About Netflix... what I'm wondering is when they start showing "possible" movies. It seems the natual progression since you can already ad in movies that aren't finished. Will studios start spending a half a millio on shooting a trailer before spending 60 million on their movie? Not sure I'm looking forward to it - would depend on the implementation. There have been a few websites that have tried to harness the "you get to be involved with the choices" method. My personal feeling is that this leads too much to LCD decision making while an audience likes to be surprised. However - I'm sure executives would love to know how many people would reserve movie X verses movie Y before sinking 100 million into them. Or - for that matter - how many people really are hungry for another CG animal movie verses an art film which totally breaks down traditional film making... maybe we discover there are much more niche audiences.

    By Blogger Mark Allen, at 4:42 PM  

  • "What could non-Internet businesses do?" Become an internet business! Great post and great above comment. All signs point towards online social networking. Whether it's the theater, the film or the fans themselves, in this day that is how you build community. And if you imagine what online social networking of the future will look like, it starts to make even more sense.

    People will be logging huge amounts of information about themselves, blogs, MySpace and YouTube are only the beginning. And certain parts of this log will be syndicated by the individual so that the information is public. Think of how each blog has an RSS feed that helps sites like be able to provide up to the minute buzz and search results about what people are talking about right now. Well, once people start syndicating things like their list of movies they'd like to see, you start being able to let audiences "pull" screenings into their market. You also start being able to see groups of people into a particular movie before it's released and they can see each other.

    The key to the future of online social networking is that it needs to be an open platform. Today that doesn't exist. You've got closed platforms like MySpace or Facebook. Great platforms for their time, but their are too many things they don't do, and realistically no one .com will ever be able to handle the worlds online social networking needs once it gets as advanced as it needs to.

    So anyone in music, film, education or any other "communication" based industry should really be on the look out for an open social networking platform and when it emerges really get behind it. That will solve a ton of these issues. And in the mean time, keep experimenting with closed social networks like for example one that the Landmark theater chain could easily build to start building community today.

    Arin Crumley

    By Blogger Four Eyed Monsters, at 3:40 PM  

  • By Blogger Lorraine, at 2:01 AM  

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