Can cable TV keep its ‘teflon’ coat afloat?

Cable TV. Its been resilient during the recession. Almost like Teflon. Will online video providers emerge as direct competitors or complements to the $69.8 billion U.S. TV subscription market?  If over 88% of all the full-length TV program episodes available in the $10/mo subscription service are already freely accessible on Hulu.com. For clips, it’s almost 98%, then why would I buy a subscription to Hulu +?  “Online video is not a substitute” for multichannel video programming, Comcast recently wrote in a filing to the FCC responding to complaints from competitors this month. “In addition, several impediments – technological, pricing related, and rights related – make it highly unlikely that online video will become a substitute” for such service “in the foreseeable future,” it continued.

So is cable really safe? Today, Google announced that it will jump into the pay-per-view market, via YouTube. Newer film titles would cost about $5–a bit more than the $.99 to $3.99 YouTube charges for the older films currently available in its fledgling pay-per-view catalog. Presumably, there will be some sort of integration with Google’s forthcoming Google TV platform, though details are scant.  If the company does manage to roll such a service out, we’ll soon see YouTube going head-to-head with Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes, Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu–and in a big way.

Yes, Google’s got reach and numbers. Yes, they could market this probably better than most. But the cable TV business has been in this market for years. And they are terrible at marketing the service and always have been. Part of the problem has been a rights issue with Hollywood (the old ‘day and date’ issue with DVD releases). Day and date issue won’t go away either, in part because Red Box is putting too much $$ into the studios pockets and it a hedge against Netflix. However, Netflix is also putting a lot of $$ in the same pockets. And, most of us still prefer the large flat screen TV over a laptop screen any day. But one of the most fervent and least discussed impediments happens to be pay TV. The likes of HBO and they swing a very big stick. HBO gets rights to movies, and BIG titles, for many, many years. Its the ‘pay-tv’ window that keeps coming back and back and back. You see HBO has 41+ million, HBO and Cinemax U.S. subscribers (as of December 31, 2009).  At an average subscription fee of $12.00 per month, that $492,000,000 million dollars PER MONTH in subscription fees. Yes, part of that goes to the cable ops for carriage, but thats still a BIG number. So, when HBO goes shopping for films and locks up movies, it does so for years. AND, those rights prevent many forms of PPV exposure, both online and terrestrial.

Which bring me back to cable TV as a whole.  I recently disconnected 3 out of 4 HD boxes in my home and got rid of my last ‘extra’ tier. I have kids in the home, so luckily Nick Jr. and Disney for Kids is carried on plain the old basic tier (are you listening cable operators?). Had those two channels been on a tier that I would have to pay for, guess what? I would be buying that tier. Other than that, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are the most valuable channels to me. Why? I can’t rent tonight’s Network Television programs. I might be able to see some of them online but I’m back to my computer screen for that.  The Emmy’s, Football, Baseball, The Academy Awards, local news and network news and other programs of this sort we all get for free – today. And its all delivered over cable TV.

Until I am able to transmit an online URL to my flat screen TV, Hulu +, Netflix, Google TV,  Apple TV and the rest are not compelling enough to pay…$5.00 a movie or $ 10.00 a month on top of my basic cable subscription.  So, yes, cable TV is fairly resistant to the recession and ‘online’ competition today. My guess is that Steve Jobs will announce a ‘rental’ service for Apple TV. And yes, others will come. But for today, cable is king.

And please don’t move Disney for Kids and Nick Jr. to another tier!

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Avatar cost $300m to make…

but is ‘Dancing With Smurfs’ going to be the most expensive flop ever?

The story of Avatar – the new film from Titanic director James Cameron, and reputedly the most expensive ever made – will ring true to anyone who has ever felt so much as a twinge of guilt about their own carbon footprint.

It is the 22nd century and Earth has run out of its natural resources. It is now little more than a desert, without vegetation, wildlife or minerals.

But a newly discovered planet, Pandora, is a lush, exotic world which possesses everything we need, so a ruthless mining corporation hatches a plan to strip it bare and save the Earth while making billions for themselves.

Feeling blue: Computer-generated aliens in Avatar

Feeling blue: Computer-generated aliens in Avatar

‘To sum it up, it’s about ecology and greed,’ says Sigourney Weaver, who dyed her hair red to play a botanist in the film. ‘It took me a while to grasp what I was getting into, but then I realised no one has ever made a fantasy film like this before.’

Cameron himself is convinced cinema-goers will want to see it at least four times – hopefully quadrupling its box office potential.

‘People will see the movie because they are curious,’ he says. ‘Then they’ll go back to make sure they saw the fantastic things they thought they saw.

‘By then, they’ll be ready to see it for the third time – just to enjoy it – then a fourth time to savour the full experience.’

Certainly, the Hollywood executives who bankrolled this sci-fi juggernaut laden with 3D effects are hoping that Cameron’s optimism is well placed.

Avatar

Sam Worthington morphed into Na’vi, one of the blue-deer-like creatures who populate the world of Pandora

For although the Fox studio indicates that Avatar cost around $180 million – some $30 million more than Cameron’s previous epic, Titanic – Tinseltown gossip says the true cost was a staggering $300 million, thanks to re-shoots and Cameron’s constantly changing ideas.

It’s no wonder that everyone connected with movies is waiting to see what the box office figures look like when Avatar comes out on December 18.

Some believe a movie about an alien culture of giant blue humanoids can never make a profit, while others think it will save the film industry from the threats of DVD piracy and static ticket sales.

Someone, rather unkindly, has dubbed this long, po-faced epic Dances With Smurfs, after Kevin Costner’s over-long po-faced epic Dances With Wolves.

Is Cameron’s ambitious project likely ever to recoup its investment? Titanic, which cost around $150 million to make, was forecast to be a massive flop. And the prediction, when the film came out 12 years ago, was that it was going to lose at least $60 million at the box office.

In the event, it was the most lucrative film ever released, making a staggering $1.1 billion and winning 11 Oscars to boot.

Critics may have carped about Titanic’s hackneyed storyline and saccharine sensibility, but it was a globally loved phenomenon. Avatar

Like all James Cameron films, Avatar is a huge gamble, with audiences at early previews ecstatic at the 3D technology – less enamoured of his environmentally conscious sci-fi world

It personally enriched Cameron – a five-times married movie obsessive with a reputation for throwing the shoutiest tantrums in Hollywood – by an estimated $60 million.

So why has Avatar, which has its London premiere next week, cost so much to make? It is Cameron’s first feature film since Titanic and the price tag mostly reflects the fact that he wanted to make a photo-realistic sci-fi epic film in 3-D.

Sigourney WeaverSigourney Weaver is the only well known actor

This ‘live action’ epic is about two-thirds computer generated and one-third real, and uses the most advanced motion capture technology.

There are only 37 cast members – all unknowns except for Sigourney Weaver – but there is a roll-call of thousands of digitally-created characters.

Much of the technology was created just to make the filming possible, and Cameron says his team had to invent dozens of new techno-phrases to describe the processes involved.

In fact, when he came up with the idea for Avatar 14 years ago, he was told it was an impossible dream, because the technology needed to make it come true didn’t exist.

Describing the making of Avatar as ‘computer graphics hell’, he added: ‘We were trying to create a world from scratch, working with computer generated characters that are photorealistic. That’s tough. We set the bar high.’

The project was conducted with Cameron’s customary mania for perfection, using close-up cameras so sensitive they could detect muscles moving under the skin of the actors’ faces.

Each shot was captured by up to eight cameras simultaneously and the images were then turned into aliens. The final effect is said to be so convincing that you could be looking at actors in make-up rather than digitally created beings.

And every scene had to be shot twice on 3D cameras to make the film work in three dimensions.

The film’s production designer, Rick Carter, says the created reality is vital to the success of the film.

‘The real challenge is whether you feel the emotion coming through from the characters.

When you look into those eyes, do you feel the connection is real?’

Titanic

Cameron’s movie Titanic took 2.5 years to produce, cost $200m to make and took $1.8 billion worldwide to become the biggest-grossing film of all time

It was Carter’s job to create the fantasy planet Pandora, according to Cameron’s specifications. One of the many spectacular features is that the planet lights up at night.

Cameron had seen a bioluminescent world when he was deep-sea diving during the making of Titanic, and so, for added realism, hired a professor of plant physiology, Jodie Holt, to help create the plant life on Pandora, which had to be toxic to humans but support vegetation.

Another academic, Professor Paul Frommer, of the University of Southern California, was paid to create a language for the tribe of 10ft tall blue aliens, called the Na’vi, who live on Pandora.

Frommer, a linguistics expert, spent four years working on the language, and said: ‘I could have let my imagination run wild and come up with all sorts of weird sounds, but I was limited by what a human actor could actually do.’

The Na’vi language as he created it has more than 1,000 words, with a grammar of its own. The actors even had a voice coach, the renowned Carla Meyer, to help with pronunciation.

Frommer hopes it will have ‘a life of its own’ in possible prequels and sequels and that fans of Avatar may even trouble to learn it, as some Star Trek fans have studied the Klingon language. A Na’vi dictionary is already available online.

Avatar

Some early scenes, such as the one where Jake wakes up as an Avatar, were shot in real sets – partially, James Cameron admits, to save money

Meanwhile, Sigourney Weaver is at pains to point out that the film will appeal to a much wider audience than sci-fi fans.

‘In its way, it is an old fashioned kind of movie but with a seamless modern technology. It is a big, swashbuckling epic romance – the sort of story that has brought audiences into the cinema for almost 100 years.’

Because humans cannot breathe on Pandora, the SecFor mining company which sets out to pillage the planet creates human-alien hybrids, called Avatars.

The hero, Jake Sully, played by Australian actor Sam Worthington, is a paraplegic former Marine who volunteers to take part, blissfully unaware of the corporation’s plans to steal Pandora’s resources.

However, Jake is accepted into the Na’vi world, and falls in love with Princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). He learns to respect the Na’vi culture, which puts him at odds with SecFor, as they gear up to assault and take over Pandora itself in a massive final battle scene.

Worthington, 30, was unknown outside Australia, where he had made a few art films. ‘I met James Cameron to discuss the film and discovered that his personal heroes weren’t actors – they were scientists. That got me hooked.’

Worthington’s take on Avatar is simplistic. ‘It’s a great film, and a story that isn’t so far-fetched because we all know that we’re bleeding our planet dry. Maybe it will make people realise that Earth needs saving from itself before it’s too late.

‘But we’re not preaching – It’s just a rattling good story.’

Some critics say it’s a ‘horrible film’ – overinflated, hard to watch and ridiculous. There are also complaints that the Na’vi just don’t work cinematically and that it’s all a shade absurd.

But Leo Barraclough, of the entertainment industry magazine Variety, says he doesn’t think such brickbats will affect its commercial appeal. ‘It is one of the most anticipated films of recent years and I don’t think it will much matter what the critics say.

‘It is 12 years since Titanic, and James Cameron is a big movie maker, so people are going to want to see it because of that.

‘Cameron is known for quality film making, with energy, intelligence and detail. Avatar has also been marketed very cleverly via the internet and tie-ins with MTV and Coca Cola and so on.’

Avatar

James Cameron’s epic new 3D sci-fi adventure is the story of a distant planet, Pandora, being exploited for its precious resources, and features both live action and pioneering digital animation

More than one million people have logged on to the online trailer, and ticket presales are apparently phenomenal.

Rather unusually, Fox has sought to whet public interest in Avatar with special showings at IMAX cinemas around the world of a 16-minute extended trailer.

The marketing assault includes product tie-ins with McDonalds and the Coca-Cola Company, who are Fox’s promotional partners: Coca Cola, for example, has produced 140 million cans of Coke Zero which, when held up to a webcam, will show a helicopter taking off.

Action figures and vehicles are being made for the global market by Mattel. They all contain i-Tags which show content and info when held up to a webcam. And a video game in 3D is already on the market.

It’s all very clever, but will Avatar make its money back? Whether it’s $180 million, as the studio says, or $300 million as the grapevine has it, the film still needs to sell a lot of tickets.

To put this into context, big effects-laden movies such as Spider Man 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean cost around $150 million to make.

Fox, however, is able to stay calm about its financial exposure – because the costs have been split with two other investors. Dune Capital Management and Ingenious Film Partners are paying for about two-thirds of the production costs.

And Fox will also get a 15 per cent tax rebate from New Zealand, where all the live-action sequences and most of the effects were done, which is expected to return around $15 million.

Cameron has agreed to delay his profit participation until Fox and its investors recoup their costs. Perhaps he is so confident because Avatar will benefit from the higher ticket prices charged by 3-D theatres.

There are high hopes that it will help to continue the 3-D revolution, which is bringing audiences back into cinemas, and that it will push the sales of Blu ray discs next year when it is released.

Fox’s co-chairman Tom Rothman describes Avatar as ‘a creatively ambitious movie that is fiscally prudent’. It’s clear that he is already thinking about a sequel. ‘When you can move the popular culture, particularly with something newly created, that’s a path to tremendous success,’ he says.

Guest Post  by Alison Boshoff – Thanks to the DailyMail.co.uk

Academy Award screeners 2009 online tally

This says it all.

Yesterday saw the announcement of the 2009 Oscar nominees. This year there were 26 movies put forward, and by nomination day, 23 of them were already being shared online in DVD quality, many of them copies of voter’s DVD Screeners.

oscar torrentLast year we took a look at the excellent research carried out by Waxy’s Andy Baio, as he provided detailed piracy stats for every Oscar-nominated movie since 2003. Andy contacted us to announce that he’s been working hard again in 2009 – we take a look at his findings.

For the 2009 Oscars, 26 movies were nominated. In alphabetical order they are: Australia, Bolt, Changeling, Defiance, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Hellboy II, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess, The Reader, The Visitor, The Wrestler, Tropic Thunder, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Wall-E and Wanted.

Of these 26 movies, 25 were available online by yesterday’s nomination day – only Rachel Getting Married made the date piracy-free. An MPAA-worrying 23 of these were downloadable in either DVD Screener or Retail DVD format (Region 5 included). In the past months many of the nominees appeared in our weekly download charts, with The Dark Knight as the absolute winner topping 7 million downloads in 2008.

Of course, the MPAA is always keen to point to the ‘evils’ of camcorder piracy and has clamped down heavily on this in recent years. However, it doesn’t seem able to deal effectively with its own internal issues. Of the 26 nominated films, 20 were distributed to Oscar voters in DVD Screener format. Many of them leaked onto the web, with the exceptions countable on one hand.

In 2003 the MPAA temporarily banned Oscar screeners to prevent them from leaking, but this decision was eventually reversed. Since then, the industry has touted technical solutions such as Cinea to protect their content, but for various reasons it hasn’t stopped the leaks. This year the average time from DVD Screeners being delivered to voters and subsequently leaking out to the web, was just 6 days.

Written by enigmax on January 23, 2009

Despite every single Pirates best efforts, Hollywood had a record boxoffice.

calico-jack-the-pirate

According to The Hollywood Reporter Hollywood had a record box office year. This despite cries and complaints from the MPAA about piracy is going to kill this business.  According to the article, In 2008, about 1.36 billion tickets were sold in the US and Canada, which is actually down from the 1.4 billion tickets sold in 2007.  Thanks to a 4.7 percent increase in average US ticket prices to $7.20, and despite a prediction of a “really hard year” from the National Associate of Theater Owners, 2008’s box office earnings narrowly edged out last year’s by two percent. 2007 was also a record year for profits, though, growing 5.4 percent over 2006 by grossing $9.63 billion. Now, that’s not so bad, is it?

No question that piracy in some ways can hurt a box office, but how much remains to be seen. It is also quite possible that the availability online allows and fosters conversations about a film (good or bad) and one can argue that this is itself publicity and marketing (word-of-mouth) for a film. Add in the social networks, fan pages, widgets and IM/test discussions, etc.

So speaking of piracy, I think I’ll take a peek at what’s up in the newsgroups all over the world, specifically looking for Academy Award screeners. I’ll post my findings here in the next day or two. Stay tuned. oscar-academy-award

The Newest Pirate on the Block…and it’s NOT Jack Sparrow

Unbelievable. And the quality rocks. Someone’s going to shut these guys down sooner or later. The MPAA is just going to throw the keys away when they catch these guys. I don’t agree with this thinking, however, in the meantime, you can enjoy some movies right now: http://quicksilverscreen.com/. They look a bit like http://www.peekvid.com/ but the quality and site response is soooo much better (maybe that’s because PeekVid moved servers to Albania?). Just pop the corn. pirate.jpg

Pirated Screeners…your ‘Christmas’ update. Brought to you by…. The Studios!

warner.jpguniversal.jpgparamount.jpgcolumbiatristar.jpgdisney1.jpgmgm.jpg It’s Christmas time and more and more of those ever ‘elusive’ screeners are appearing now online each day (and other films too, not just screeners) . Just showing up last night and ALL in DVD Screener quality; I am Legend , Gone Baby Gone, Zodiac, Resident Evil Extinction, Stardust, The Simpsons Movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Eastern Promises, Underdog (what a waste of digital storage space), Once, The Kite Runner, 3:10 to Yuma, Atonement, The Bee Movie,  No Country for Old Men,  Alvin and The Chipmunks, August Rush, and The Perfect Holiday. Still MIA are (but I expect will rear their heads in a few days); Fred Claus, Enchanted,  Michael Clayton,  The Golden Compass, Sweeney Todd, Charlie Wilson’s War, Beowolf, P.S. I Love You and National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

The DVD screeners are nearly all ‘poached’ from someone in each studio. The screener ‘log’ number (embedded in the digital copy near the bottom of the screen) has been digitally removed so it can’t be identified as to whose screener copy it actually was.

It appears that the crop of pictures are as robust as last years and that despite numerous anti-theft measures by each studio, films STILL make it out the door. Some are Region 5 copies, most are dvd screeners, internal to each studio. However, with the demise of Kazaa and Limewire in the past year and half, the distribution of these ‘pirated’ copies has diminished. The reason being that Kazaa and Limewire enabled the non-technical consumers to be able to download a copy of anything with only 1 click. Getting films such as the ones I’ve mentioned above now from newsgroups requires a pretty sophisticated and long process and some technical understanding and expertise. Most of this is well beyond the masses online. That’s the good news. But in truth, these ‘advance’ screeners end up being discussed and chatted about online much like topics you might discuss around the proverbial ‘water cooler’ at your office. These discussions (positive or negative) filter down into people’s blogs, messageboards, IM chats and eventually get swept up onto Google somewhere giving that film some additional exposure it never would of had through traditional channels. After all, isn’t that what each studio tries to do with all of their content when its released, ultimately promote it? Wouldn’t it be cool one day if someone at a studio realized all of this and made a film with 2 different endings (or additional scenes) to try and take advantage of this unregulated distribution ‘channel’. Purposely release the DVD screener of 1 version (ending) and then the other (the theatrical version) through normal channels. Think of the buzz and consumer demand (especially if the film was popular) to now find that other version and see the alternate ending. Of course, then they could release THAT version through traditional channels giving the studio’s perhaps a larger slice of DVD sales at retail.

lastmanposter.jpggonebabygone.jpgsaw4.jpgzodiak.jpgresidentevilextinction.jpgstardust.jpgalvin.jpgatonement.jpgkiterunner.jpg310-toyuma.jpg

Those ‘elusive’ online Academy Award Screeners for 2007…and the winners are:

OscarIts that time again. What do I mean you might ask? Its time to hunt down digital copies and watch this years Academy Award screener’s that are already starting to ‘leak’ their way online. Some even before they hit the theaters. So, we’ll keep a tally here as to which ones have shown up and where to find them. First one off the lot ‘honors’ goes to “AMERICAN GANGSTER” Stay tuned for more!

ps – they are all found right here Calico Jack, The Pirate.

UPDATE: (*note: not all of the below mentioned titles are ‘Academy Screeners’, some are art house pics, some are DVD screeners that were leaked earlier than their DVD street date -most likely by an employee – and all are found in the divx binary newsgroup as well as some others and are available for download for free by anyone with a newsgroup reader, newsgroup account, and some par files). If you need some help understanding how to do all of this, you can look it up on the web here (and its not an easy exercise to do and that’s why services like Limewire and Kazza thrived for so long) or try iTunes.

*The Brothers Solomon, King of California, Redacted, Fifty Pills, The Banishment, In Memory of Myself, The Edge of Heaven, Thieves, The Man Who Shot Chinatown, The Man from Earth, Shattered, September Dawn, Dragon War.