Monday, November 26, 2012


I have to quickly point out how much I love the above image. Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins as a one-man band, playing all instruments simultaneously. Get it?

Back to the point at hand, I have said before that exhibitors are the biggest problem facing filmmakers in the evolving entertainment landscape:

In a changing world, exhibitors (the cinema owners) are in the 'flat earth map' business.

They keep resisting improvements that would make the film business relevant again, maybe even economically sustainable.

One such improvement is 'Simultaneous Distribution'; the act of releasing a film in all forms (in cinemas, online, on Blu Ray, on DVD, etc etc) at the same time.

This idea goes against the traditional release windows, where a film would be in cinemas, then video stores, then for retail sale, then TV, then Pay TV, etc etc.

The traditional release windows, of course, represent a pay wall, intended to keep the movie business profitable.

But times have changed. Audiences have changed.

The pay wall in movies is KILLING THE MOVIE BUSINESS.

Audiences have less time.

They have more forms of entertainment than ever before.

They have piracy.

And what do the movies do?

Make it HARDER for audiences to get to the content.

How does this make sense?

Instead of being more creative by making the audience experience better in the different delivery mechanisms (e.g. an easier streaming movie website to navigate; or a better cinema experience) we instead are entrenching the pay walls that protect scarcity in movies, thereby hoping to protect the economic viability of cinema.


If you want to read up on this, I found an excellent article in the NY Times on the subject. The overall article's message is average reading, it goes to great lengths to labour a point we understood in the title, but it's the tidbits scattered throughout that should make the hair on filmmaker's necks stand up. I'll share the best ones:

'Films, while in theaters, live behind a pay wall; television is free, once the monthly subscription is paid. And at least since “The Sopranos” sophisticated TV series have learned to hook viewers on long-term character development; movies do that mostly in fantasy franchises like the “Twilight” series.'

'After the shock of last year's decline in the number of tickets sold for movies domestically, to 1.28 billion, the lowest since 1995...' 

'As the awards season unfolds, the movies are still getting smaller. After six weeks in theaters “The Master,” a 70-millimeter character study much praised by critics, has been seen by about 1.9 million viewers. That is significantly smaller than the audience for a single hit episode of a cable show like “Mad Men” or “The Walking Dead.”'

There is so much entertainment available to audiences, that the one who makes themselves the hardest to reach...loses.

Less people are going to the movies, but exhibitors keep raising cinema ticket prices to...stay profitable.

More and more audiences are watching movies on phones and tablets. Instead of making the movies readily available on these devices from day 1, to engage both the audience who wants to go to the movies and the audience who prefers to watch in their own space, we have 'release windows' that ensure that you can only see the movie at a cinema. This preserves a false scarcity for cinemas to help them...stay profitable.

When did cinema's need for profitability overtake the need for the film industry to stay relevant and connect to their audience?

While exhibitors fight to stay profitable, they are creating a smaller and smaller pie overall for the movie business. They are winning battles, but really losing the war. Badly.

If a film could be in cinemas and available to tablet watchers at the same time, the filmmakers would actually be better off. But somehow it's not even about the filmmakers anymore, much less the audience.

Yes, the exhibitors may suffer a little under simultaneous distribution, so it seems that they are therefore shouting the loudest, and thus getting the most consideration. For now.

But what would happen if they embraced simultaneous distribution instead?

What if they realised that there are some people who just don't like going to the cinema? They prefer their living room.

These are the people who are most likely to pirate films, because they were never going to go to the cinema anyway, and they don't want to wait for the film to be legally available.

Or they give up on the film and get their entertainment from something else instead: games, television, real life...

So, we lose this person's purchase of a legal copy that they can watch at home, so that the exhibitors can keep trying to force people to go to the cinema.

That is the real effect of the pay wall.

Exhibitors are actually harming the industry they rely on. It is absolutely ludicrous.

Breaking down the pay wall, brick by ridiculous brick, needs to happen. Embracing simultaneous distribution will force cinemas to do something positive: offer a better service or experience to their customers, to stay in business.

Rather than relying on a false scarcity, exhibitors will have to justify their price increases by making the movie-going experience more enjoyable for the audience.

Because, in the end, without an audience, we have nothing.
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