Movies are at a dangerous crossroads. As an form of art it is diminishing rapidly in public perception. As a business, due to the mismanagement of it’s current cable TV overlords it is morphing into a commodity. Movie theatres have decided to move away from being temples of the moving image to re-invent themselves as Applebee’s with really comfy seats.
Folly abounds and a lack of a grasp of the tradition and truth of the movies is staggering. It has to stop.
When emerging cable channels such as Channel Z, Select TV and ON TV erupted in the early eighties they had at their core a reverence and respect for cinema. HBO eased the baton away from these cineastes of coax and begin to engineer the decline and the commoditization of cinema. Movies, now instead of being a singular and precious individual product, were now programming blocks play and the value of a movie was removed from an individual basis to a bulk buy basis. Movies ceased to possess an individual cache but now due to the juggernaut that was/is cable began to be sold in packages or to be bluntly be sold by the pound.
One day the theatrical market diminished in the eyes of Hollywood. When it was announced that the rental VHS market equaled the theatrical market, Hollywood execs began to dance a jig. No more whiny theatre owners, no more box office reports, no more print costs…it was a promised paradise. They had no idea that at the time that the path they had set themselves on would lead to the degradation and demise of their own industry. 25 years later after the rise of VHS, then DVD we see an industry hobbled by the lack of theatrical releases of many deserving titles and a subsequent reduction in income.
In 1985 Twentieth Century Fox, did a study to see what the impact delivering the next re-iteration of the Star Wars series would make if it was released on one night into American homes. The analyst pulled out their calculators, did a couple of polls and delivered a number, $140 million dollars would be delivered into studio coffers on one night…behind the closed doors at Fox hands were rubbed excitedly, a little salivation I am sure occurred and the powers that be shared their findings with other studios heads. Hands were put on the tiller of Hollywood and the ship that is Hollywood was turned towards this emerging digital cornucopia.
Fast forward to 2015….
In April of this year, the annual National Association Of Broadcasters Convention was held in Las Vegas. Among the spinning and whirling of all the new emerging digital toys, conversation arose and fervent discussions emerged. Although I did not attend this convention, a trusted associate did, who we shall call for his sake “Deep Pixels”. Deep Pixels reported back from his/her many conversations that video on demand was in general a confused mess, no money was being made and that 4K streaming was a non-starter. Deep Pixel came away from NAB with the conclusion that sadly “Nn one had a clue what was going on”.The shining light that was interactive video was dimming rapidly and the hopes of the studios to have a direct relationship with the consumer were now being abandoned.
The back room plans of the studios included ridding itself of a theatrical window. First day and date would be implemented and then moving away from the number of theatres allowed to show a film. If the numbers warranted they would with much sadness walk away from the initial market that had given birth to the movies.
Here is the rub, the thing that really flies in the face of their logic: A theatrical release no matter how much income it makes, if released in a moderately capable fashion is by far the best way to advertise for the foreign, cable and ancillary markets. No other form of exposure even comes close. By taking a theatrical release out of the equation movies began their drift to being a commodity. Companies like Cinedigm are struggling deeply and the stock market is casting a deep doubt on anything with the name “video on demand”.
We have a very short window, a very short window indeed to stop the further erosion of movies as an art form and and as a collective entertainment experience. I am proposing that the amount of releases in theatres be doubled and that an automatic six month/180 days window be instated to protect the theatrical release and to maximize the impact of the other markets. I also think that theatres have to become more involved in the choosing and production of product for their venues. They have to shake off the spoon feeding that Hollywood provides them and re-take their place as the decision makers. It is time for independents and smaller chains to sit down with independent producer and distributor and provide access to bona fide “alternative content”.
It is time that theatres began to be far more independent and it is time for studios to realize that they have failed and have failed badly.
The best remedy for the current malaise that movies are facing and to let them again to take their rightful place within American culture and that rightful place is on the screen of a movie theatre. In order to protect motion pictures as a vital economic force you must first ensure and protect the American movie theatre.
Hey movie studios, do the industry a favor, give the theatres the six month window it deserves……in the end you will make more money. If not …..your toast