Re-Inventing The Movies

The first movie I ever saw was “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs” double billed with a Topo Gigio movie. I was four. I eagerly clutched my warm red and white box of popcorn, I gingerly sipped on the nectar that was Coca Cola. The color exploded on screen and I was transfixed by the ballet of color that exploded on screen. The second film I saw was “The Sound of Music”. As a Catholic schoolboy the thought of the Nun’s sabotaging the Nazi’s really appealed to me. In act the scene of a couple of Nuns holding oily distributor caps was the talk of the school yard for weeks. Movies were magic back then, original, poignant and spoke always to the aspirations of the common man. Thanks to Walt Disney, Robert Wise and an Italian mouse I was hooked on going to the movies.

I was privileged to enter my world of movie going by sitting in houses that had a six hundred seat capacity. An automatic sense of awe descended on the audience when they entered those houses, and the surroundings were true partners with the movie they showed in providing a full experience. The lights on the marquees of the large downtown movie house were more than seductive to my young eyes and to this day I will drive many miles to catch a glimpse of those few remaining grand old dames of cinema.

Sadly, at least to me anyways is the fact that my son has never experienced this kind of movie going experience. There is no longer the reverence for movies in the theatres. The lights are only partially dimmed, the screens are smaller and seats fewer. That magic has vanished primarily due to the evolution to multiplexes couple with the drive to much larger budget movies. That magic is now is irretrievable and now sadly, can only live in the minds and the hearts of those that truly love movies and remember.

The rise of interactive media now threatens the last vestiges of movie going in a way that I do not think the industry has not really considered. While feature films can be played in theatres, I pads, PC’s and numerous other devices, the real issue is that audiences globally are beginning to reject the format and length of feature films in favor of short form movies , more easily accessible and consumable content. No only are smaller movies dying, the whole idea of a two hour movie is heading to the scrap heap.

The increase in the number of electronic devices capable of supporting movies along with increasing internet access speed, has provided former theater-goers with an option to access the media content of their choice; be it information or entertainment anytime, anywhere. Media consumption in the US has shown tremendous increase and has seen a significant jump from traditional media delivery systems to digital media. The rapid advance of services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple TV, Roku, and Boxee, etc. are eroding rapidly the viewing attachment to both the television and the movie screen. Over The Top services like Netflix, Hulu, and VUDU, appear to be voraciously grabbing the loyalties of traditional movie goers.. Overall the online video market is expected to reach over US$56 billion by 2019, with a 6 year annual growth rate of 23.1%. Global box office for movie going last year was $38 billion worldwide.

While epics like Star Wars may be always destined for the the big screen, producers and directors are increasingly making movies solely to appeal to online viewers. The theatrical market is quickly losing relevance in many film producers eyes.

Every year, statistics clearly show that young audiences are ignoring the box office, they are abandoning movie going in favor of online viewing. Streaming as it is called , continues to grow in popularity. Right now movies are being distributed both in movie theatres as well as various on demand services. This may changes soon as the revenue grows for online viewing the interest in studios to servicing the theatrical will naturally diminish. Many scream that going to the multiplex is so different from the experience of watching on a smaller screen, but on the horizon 110 inch LCD 4K and K televisions which shall exceed the experience provided on today’s movie screens. Movie exhibitors will be pitched various new technologies like 4D and they will invest in it in the hope of luring back movie goers. It will be a bad investment.

Movie theatres are practically as old as the movies themselves: they were first built en masse in the 1910s, only twenty years after Edison and the Lumieres’ invention of the medium The movies since then have been dominated by the idea of a large, public screen since its birth. Unfortunately the rise of the internet has made movie watching more likely to occur on a personal device with the headphones firmly plugged in.

At one time when budget were lower and you had more movies coming into the theatres, niche audiences could be supported. The dynamic was different. A movies that cost $4 million only had to make $20 million to be considered a huge success. Today a $200 million movies has to gross over $50-$70 million in the first weekend or else it will be considered a huge disaster The large spectacle pictures of today totally obliterate the ability for a theatre to market to a certain market niche. One of the advantages an internet driven film has is that it doesn’t need to contain something for everyone. Unfortunately today , movies try to cater to as large a group of people as possible. That is why kids’ films have story lines for adults, and why romantic comedies go out of their way to attract men.

But watching movies on the internet is different than today’s movie going experience. It is more like movie going in the early eighties. Because viewers are watching alone, films can be made exclusively for certain fan bases and still be confident of finding an audience. Amazon’s hit show Transparent was a very adult portrayal of gender identity that was more that cutting edge. Netflix, always creates content to speak only to certain demographics. On the internet, movie fans can expect a plethora of niche movies specifically made for a certain for target audiences. It used to be that way in theatres.

Because movies are being watched on multiple mediums, the medium is shaping the audience and shaping the content . While movies theatres are not going to die out any time soon, they will forever lose the niche film market, the B Movie Market and the market for smaller pictures. The epic does not translates well on the Kindle, but it still shines on the big screen. Lately movies like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, but it’s a style of movie making that started with DW Griffith’s Intolerance and includes the latest STAR WARS. The large scale of such movies means they are really marketable on the big screen. If they fail there its game over.

As an avid movie goer, I weep that the movie theatre is no longer home to the lower budget movies, the pulpy films of Roger Corman, the raunchy comedies of Crown International and the quirky art films from small studios like Samuel Goldwyn.

Something tells me that the movie going public will soon tire of the large spectacle, they become immune to the bravado and ballyhoo that accompanies the latest Star Wars film. I am deeply worried because it’s foundation seems to have slowly migrated to solely a diet of blockbusters. With that a series of box offices disaster can plunge the movie exhibitors into an near extinction like event. While the studios can use revenue from online and foreign to prop itself up. If the exhibitors have a bad Christmas or a bad summer, it will be game over. I do not think relying on the blockbuster is entirely wise for this industry.

What really concerns me is that emerging audiences are beginning to see movies as content which has at its length 20 minutes or less. Content that it can be revisited, paused, stopped or replayed. The audiences that have the labeled millennial have no loyalty whatsoever for the movie going experience and may start to abandon movie theatres because they are not offering the non-linear diverse product that Netflix offers. The movie exhibitor must begin to look at incorporating the viewing habits of this generation into the movie going experience. Heck at one time folks used to go to the theatres just to see the weekly serial. It is truly something to think about.

Movies are changing rapidly, audiences are changing even more rapidly. If movie theatres really solely on the spectacle and not not take into account emerging audiences, then I feel they are putting themselves at deep risk. I am hoping at least some movie theatres will abandon the rush for movie theatres to be an Applebees with screens, and revert to doing what they do best, building community, providing solid value driven entertainment and bring diverse movies to its audiences.

Oh, I really want to see the return of a 600 seat house……..please.