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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Box office skid: Due to smarter audiences?

Sharon Waxman writes in today's NY Times that the summer moviegoing season will be down about 10 percent relative to last year, whether you're measuring ticket sales or attendance.

Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures, floats a theory:

    "Part of this is the fact that the movies may not have lived up to the expectations of the audience, not just in this year, but in years prior," said Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which had some flops this summer, including the science fiction action movie "Stealth" and the romantic comedy "Bewitched." "Audiences have gotten smart to the marketing, and they can smell the good ones from the bad ones at a distance."

Robert Shaye, chairman of New Line Cinema ("The Wedding Crashers"), is thinking along similar lines:

    In previous years, he said, "you could still count on enough people to come whether you failed at entertaining them or not, out of habit, or boredom, or a desire to get out of the house. You had a little bit of backstop."

Later, Waxman says that execs at New Line "have been talking about the 'sameness of everything' on movie schedules." (Swear off conformity? You've got to be kidding.)

Waxman writes that "overall movie attendance, a figure not affected by inflation, has slid to below where it stood in mid-August 2001. DVD sales, while still robust, are no longer rising exponentially, and some analysts say that a poor box office performance this summer will lead to poor DVD sales this winter."

At Sony, Lynton expresses a desire to concentrate on "making `only movies we hope will be really good.' At Fox, executives said they are looking to limit marketing costs. At Universal, Mr. Shmuger said he intends to reassert `time and care and passion' in movie production."

It's odd: no one is talking about trying to produce more movies with lower budgets...which would allow them to take more shots on goal each summer. Instead, it seems like the impulse is to spend more time, energy, and management oversight on a handful of big budget movies.