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Monday, May 23, 2005

'Nothing more fun than blowing up tired traditions'

The New York Times today gives some ink to Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's crusade against release windows.

"There is nothing more fun than blowing up tired traditions to create better business models and better customer experiences," Cuban tells columnist David Carr in an e-mail interview. (This guy really *is* all digital.)

Carr observes that Cuban and Wagner "have prospered by ignoring convention at every turn," and mentions their recent deal with Steven Soderbergh for six movies, shot digitally. The plan is to release each of these pictures in every possible format on the same day - ignoring the custom of maintaining sequential and distinct release windows (theatrical, in-flight, home video, etc). After all, if consumers want to see a movie, why not let them choose where they see it, and in which format, when they're really excited about seeing it?

(An aside: at a brunch yesterday, I talked with a twenty-something fellow who mentioned that his home PC was downloading the new "Star Wars" movie from the Internet, illegally, while we sipped coffee. Maybe I'm a Pollanna, but I like to believe that that sort of casual piracy will be curtailed, and consumers will gladly pay for content, if they can get their hands on first-run movies and watch them in a way that's convenient for them.)

There's a wonderfully telling quote toward the end of the Times piece from the president of the National Association of Theater Owners, who says that the Cuban/Wagner initiative "does not establish any serious precedent for the rest of the industry because the pictures are small artistic projects with minimal commercial potential."

So many things are wrong with that comment. Among them:

- Since when are theater owners (or movie producers, or actors, or critics, for that matter) accurate judges of a film's commercial potential?

- No revolution ever happened without a great deal of experimentation beforehand - some of which leads to dead ends. But it's important to pay attention to the experiments if you hope to survive and succeed.

- And since when does change in an industry require a 'serious precedent'?


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