Movie Madness

This year, the motion picture industry had one of it’s worst years in a long, long time. It’s had the biggest decline in modern movie history–5.2%. The movie industry, of course, blames the use of Bittorrent and other peer-to-peer filesharing programs as the culprit, vowing, of course, to crack down on them even harder.

This is, of course, complete and total baloney.

I will preface the following rant by saying that I do not use Bittorrent to download movies illegally. I hate watching movies on my computer screen, and hate waiting days and days to get a full movie. I do, however, own several hundred films on DVD, have a subscription to Neflix, and go to the movies regularly, paying full price.

The movie industry has been hurting itself in a variety of different ways the last several years–none of which have a thing to do with a very small percentage of users downloading movies illegally. In addition, several major advances in home theatre technology have made going to the movie theatre nearly obsolete.

1) The quality of major Hollywood releases has been, generally, so abysmal that it’s no wonder people aren’t going to see these films. When you make a movie with Vin Diesel (what a stupid name) getting bitten in the crotch by duck, or continually make sequels to movies that weren’t all that good to begin with (Cheaper by the Dozen 2, I’m talking to you) it’s no wonder that moviegoes are opting to stay home. Studios aren’t taking chances with new, exciting, or original ideas preferring instead to rehash the same old stories. The problem with these copies of copies of copies is that the quality degrades with each duplication so you can barely recognize the image anymore.

2) Studios have chosen to focus on a few mega-films instead of creating a whole year’s worth of quality movies. Why make three excellent films and seventeen awful ones instead of twenty good to great films? It wouldn’t cost the studios any more money. They would just have to use the brains they must have in their somewhere to be more intelligent with the choices that they greenlight. A few blockbusters sprinkled thoughout the year are hardly adequate to keep ticket sales high. As a formerly frequent moviegoer, I used to attend the movies at least twice a month, sometimes more often. Now, it’s unusual if I go once a month because there is rarely anything I want to see.

3) With the invention of the mega-cineplex movie theatres, one would think that there would be a much larger variety of movies to choose from. With 20-30 screens in a single theatre complex, there should be many smaller movies, independent, and art films on more screens across the country. Instead, movie theatres often show the same film on three to five screens at the same time, even when the audiences for these films have curtailed sharply. In addition, instead of wisely planning which movie theatres will show which films, the owners of the cineplexes will often show the exact same movies, thus splitting their audience. In my small city of 80,000 people there are two first-run movie theatres only a few miles apart from one another: The Provo Towne Centre, which has 16 screens, and the Wynnsong Cinemas, which has 12. There is rarely a time when one theatre is showing a film that isn’t also being shown at the other. A much wiser course of business would be to offer different movies at these two theaters, thus INCREASING potential audiences by showing more than the same seven or eight films.

4) Advances in home theatre technology have changed drastically in the last two years. The drastic price drops on large, high-definition televisions, 5-8 channel surround sound systems, and even LCD projectors has made setting up a killer home theater system much more affordable. High-def cable programming, television DVDs, upconverting DVD players, Tivo, On-demand cable, and the shortly arriving Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs provide a vast landscape of content for the at home viewer. Movies are, for most people, a chance to divert themselves from life. If they can do that at home without having to fork out $40 for tickets, and another $50-60 for snacks at the theatre, they’ll do that. For a family of four, it only takes about 12 nights of staying home to watch a movie instead of going out to pay off a high-definition LCD projector, upconverting DVD player, and killer sound system.

5)As mentioned above, prices have become ridiculous at movie theaters. I person can easily blow $50 paying for a date at the movies with snacks. Add to that a dinner at a decently-priced restaraunt, and you’ve reached $100 for the evening. America is a prosperous country, but few people live comfortably enough that they can spend $100 on a few hours of food and entertainment without batting an eye. The simple rules of economics are at play here. If the movie companies want to get a bigger audience, they need to make slightly cheaper films, and then lower the cost of admission and refreshments. As the price drops, the demand will rise, and the theatres will find themselves full again. Perhaps they could even offer a tiered pricing strategy: pricing new releases slightly higher for the first few weeks, then lowering them a dollar or two for a few weeks until they arrive at the 2nd run movie theaters. Many would be willing to wait a few extra weeks to save a few dollars, or even see movies for which they don’t feel justified paying full price. This could easily extend the life of many movies in the theaters.

6) Advertising in the theaters has turned away more than a few movie-going patrons. Instead of the lights dimming and the film starting or being shown a few previews, the audience has to sit through nearly 30 minutes of commercials and trailers before the beginning of the film. What’s more, the commercials with which the audience are pummeled are often more insipid and annoying on the big screen than they are on television: a feat which is a major accomplishment considering the annoyance level of some television commercials. Many patrons feel that, after having spent $100 on tickets and refreshments, it is insulting to be bombarded with advertisements. Were movie theaters to keep their trailers down to three or fewer, and were to cut out the commercials entirely, they would have enough time for an extra showing of the film each day.

The movie companies need to take a long, hard look at why the movie-going experience has become so hated by so many in the general population if they wish to find the causes of this precipitous drop in ticket sales instead of blaming their systemic problems on a very smaller percentage of people downloading movies. The audience for downloading films illegally is not the same audience who will go to see the movie in the theatre or buy the DVD even were the downloading options were not available. In addition, the quality of pirated films and the difficulty of displaying these films on something other than a computer screen is a faily safe buffer for the movie companies. Piracy does little or no damage to the sale of tickets at the movie theatre in comparison to the giant missteps made by the movie industry in the last several years. Make better movies, make them cheaper for the consumer, and make the movie-going experience more enjoyable, and maybe people will turn off their 62′ plasma flat-panel wide-screen high-def television sets, dvd players, and bose surround sound systems, and go back to the movie theaters.

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