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Sunday, November 13, 2005

The first 4 a la carte...and videogames

Three strong pieces from the NY Times this, you've got the entire issue of the Sunday Magazine dedicated to the movie biz.

1. Adam Leipzig writes today that a movie's success or failure in theatres is often determined in a four-hour window on the Friday it is released. This piece is a must-read. Leipzig observes that a movie's success as a DVD (where most of the profits are gleaned) hinges on whether that movie did well in theatres. And what generates boffo box office?

    In most cases, nearly half of a movie's total audience turns out in the first week of release, which means there has been very little or no word of mouth motivating most of the audience. In other words, many people go to a movie without any real information about it - without even reading a review. Or, put most cynically: Most of the time, there is no relationship between how good a film is, and how many people turn out to see it.

    So what makes people go to a movie? Generally, it is awareness - or now, in Hollywood parlance, "pre-awareness." Since studios cannot spend enough on advertising to buy awareness (there is so much advertising noise in the marketplace these days), there is a tendency to make movies with familiar titles, characters and stories: "The Dukes of Hazzard," "Spider-Man," "War of the Worlds," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." In the past decade, most box-office revenue has come from pre-aware titles, which includes sequels ("X-Men 3," set for a May 2006 release) and remakes ( "King Kong," Dec. 14).

Once a movie opens, word-of-mouth travels at lightning speed; teenagers will text message their friends during the first show on a Friday about whether a flick is worth seeing or not, Leipzig writes. (He's the president of National Geographic Feature Films, by the way.) "...The underlying business model of the motion-picture industry has not yet adjusted to the momentum of velocity of change," Leipzig writes. And when you factor in digital distribution and projection that'd allow studios to re-edit films after release, or distribute alternate versions to target different audiences? Forget about it.

This article is worth tracking down in print for the wonderful illustrations - a mini-comic book, really - by Peter Arkle. (I've included on at right.)

2. Richard Siklos writes about selling content a la carte. Two interesting aspects of the piece: people may be conditioned by today's pricing into thinking that an hour of digital entertainment (like an epsiode of `Lost' or `CSI') is worth about $1.99 or 99 cents; that may make it hard to charge more than, say, $4 or $5 for digital downloads of two-hour movies. Second, it's surprising what people will pay for. Siklos writes:

    ...the fact that any music videos have a retail monetary value is fairly remarkable. After all, music companies largely produce them as promotional vehicles in the hope that they will gain attention from MTV or its imitators. And there are already countless Web sites for viewing them free. Who knew?

Later, he refers to the recent deals between CBS and Comcast and NBC and DirecTV to offer hit shows via he systems' video-on-demand areas:

    Everyone involved cautioned that these were just baby steps. But the bigger point is that it is now possible to envision a world not too far in the future where all imaginable types of programs, including the latest movies and top-rated network TV shows, are available through some kind of download or video-on-demand system.

3. Charles Herold reviews Lionhead's new simulation game, `The Movies,' which lets players run their own studio (or run it into the ground). Herold writes:

    ...I couldn't stop playing The Movies. It was fun as the years went by (the game begins in the 1920's) to gain access to new sets and film technologies. I liked figuring out how to increase an actor's star power by casting him in just the right film, and I studied the capsule reviews of each movie to see where I had gone wrong. I became so excited by the process that I tried to make two movies simultaneously, almost bankrupting the studio. It was thrilling to live on the edge, desperately trying to complete a film before the studio went broke.

The game costs $49.99 - much less than buying a studio of your own.


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