A Train Wreck Indeed!

How do you f’up the pay-per-view business? You don’t. No need to – it has been one train wreck since 1984. (Full disclosure: In 1984, I started a nationwide satellite delivered ‘A’ title Movie service called’ The People’s Choice’ alongside of Jeff Reiss’s ‘RequestTelevision’ and Scott Kurnit’s ‘Viewers Choice’). When I was in this business, Bill Mechanic (ex-CEO, Chairman of Fox, Disney, green lit ‘Titanic’) and Barry Diller were at Paramount, Jamie Kellner ( Orion Pictures who went on to run ‘The WB Network’), Hal Richardson ( President at Paramount) was at Disney/Dreamworks, Eric Frankel (President for 26yrs) and Stanley Solson along with Eddie Blier were at Warner Bros. ( close to the Steve Ross reign whom I knew well from High School days), Mike Medavoy at Tri-Star, Ned Nalle at Universal and Andy Kaplan at Sony. Most all of these people now still are around and are running their own ship BECAUSE back then, they had a some foresight and moxie. They DID agree to let the PPV at least try and get off the ground by granting PPV rights to a few nascent, early entrants in the business. At that time, there were only a few addressable homes to see the films.

Since the inception of PPV on the cable landscape, its always been a ‘promise’ business at best. Nothing really ever took off or was unbelievably successful (and I am referring to MOVIES, not the WWF, Boxing or the Adult business). Many a business and consulting firm was built around it, hardware made for it, ordering systems invented and manufactured and in the end, most went out of business. Most cable operators didn’t even understand it or what it was suppose to be, what ‘tier’ to put it on and how to promote it. Most felt it would cannibalize their existing cash cow, PAY TV.

It never cannibalized anything because it never got off the ground. No one could agree on a movie PPV ‘window’ (the timing of when a PPV movie should be allowed to be seen and ordered on PPV). Many a conference, discussion group, speech and convention sessions were had – all futile. Nothing was ever decided. The VCR’s were blamed as the culprit, then it was the movie studios, then it was theater owners, then it was Pay TV and the ‘exclusivity’ wars of the 90’s. Then the Internet crept upon us all and that was the new Darth Vadar. You can’t release a film on PPV too early because it could be copied easily and even easier become distributed by means of the internet all over the planet (meaning no more duplicating and bicycling cassettes as if my friends ever did this in mass to begin with). Now, using the Internet, movies would be all over the place, everywhere. Everyone would have a copy. Well? Do we ALL have copies of Avatar? Tootsie? As Good As It Gets? Dirty Harry? A good industry has got to know its limitations! And this one never did!

Now, theater owners are afraid of the 60 day release window. Pahleeese! Just read a few of the articles below.

http://engt.co/lWRaty

http://bit.ly/kXEgRU

http://lat.ms/kiRwwc

Theater owners and the Hollywood creative community are livid about Premium VOD, which they perceive as paving the road to cannibalizing theatrical attendance which would in turn harm a movie’s overall economics, creating a dangerous downward spiral. In addition, there’s concern that if consumers switch to watching movies on the small screen then the creative license implicit in a big screen emphasis will get squeezed. While their concerns MAY be justified, the good news for them is that Premium VOD will be lucky to achieve even minimal success.

Why? The cost is one – $ 30.00 for a poor film or film that has not done well at the theater or is released directly to DVD (or what was once called DVD) is insane. Sorry, justification by babysitter fees and popcorn costs don’t cut it. These are niche films. Avatar and other BIG films will never see this light of day through this window. But ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ‘ will (and has already, sort of). Example – first film up is Just Go With It” starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Ho-hum. Good cast and a flop a the box office for the most part. I’d be pissed if I paid $30.00 for this AND CAN’T EVEN KEEP A COPY IN A DIGITAL LOCKER TO SEE WHEN I WANTED AGAIN? WTF? And frankly that could be one of the keys to making this viable. Give me the ability to KEEP it as if I bought the DVD ( keep it in a ‘cloud’ locker) and I’d might buy a few films – that would help at least justify the cost.

And, as Will Richmond from VideoNuze so aptly points out, “Studios seem to believe that making movies available sooner in the home will attract demand. But the problem is that there are already so many choices for watching movies in the home – pay-TV, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, etc. etc., that it will be very hard to break through the noise, solely with a “sooner” positioning, which is more than offset by a ridiculously high price point. Consumers are savvier than ever; they’ll quickly realize that they can get the same movie for $4-5, a sixth to a seventh the price of Premium VOD, just by waiting a couple more months for it to appear on pay-TV or online VOD.”

So, theater owners who vow to ‘go to war’ are wasting their time and efforts. I guarantee them that the Movie studios and cable operators and satellite delivery services will win the war for them. Somehow, these guys think that consumers are not too smart. When are they going to wake up and smell the coffee? When are they going to realize that all of us don’t rush to ‘steal’ digital copies of films for any number of reasons (i.e., they are 700megs of data AT LEAST, cumbersome to store, less than perfect copies that lack subtitles at times and extra’s.) They are not MP3’s! Music and movies may both have a digital base as a common denominator but ultimately I’ll listen to Hotel California many more times than I can watch Avatar in my lifetime. And the pirates don’t make a bit of difference except barely on the streets of lower Manhattan or Tokyo where poorly made copies sell for $5.00 until those vendors get caught that day. And they on sell about 30 movies at that point – no MASS market like that that would ruin a $250m box office in the theaters or in any ancillary market I know of.

Theater owners should rejoice that soon this whole business will be in Netflix’s (or some other digital distributors) capable hands and not the studios. (Apologies to those friends of mine at the studios now – its not your fault, it’s just the ‘economics’ to blame and perhaps a few at the top thinking we are still in the DVD/VCR age). Make the business consumer friendly – give us a copy of what we buy and allow us to watch it whenever we want for our money that we spent. After all, I can do this with new music released, why not new movies released?

Advertisements

The Day the Studios and Theaters Stood Still

Sometime in the near future there will be an explosion heard only in the entertainment trades and whispered and talked about between studios, marketing executives,  theater owners and DVD retailers. The FCC gave everyone permission to enter this pissing match and what a pissing match it will be.

If you ever go to the movies (and many of us do) with more than 1 person – so two people attend a film and you have a child where you needed to hire a sitter, you might not be going to the theater so quickly anymore. Well, maybe you still will. Time will tell this one. Soon, a mere 6 weeks AFTER any movie starts playing in a theater, you will be able to watch it at home in the comfort of your ‘Aunt Fay’s couch’ (nod to Steely Dan) on your nice large LCD flat panel TV.  To help you To help you visualize what this means in numbers, there are about 115 million television households in the US. Approximately 100 million of them are currently cable, satellite or IPTV subscribers. Through these cable boxes (although not every one of them, only the ‘digital’ households that have a set-top box) you will be able to purchase the very same film that was JUST in the theaters 6 weeks ago on cable for $24.99 – called premium V.O.D. – video-on-demand.  BUT, the movie studios will be able to activate a technology to prevent films sold through video-on-demand cable systems from being copied.  This is the ruling that the FCC just allowed in May 2010 after a two year battle with the studios.

Right now, theaters get an exclusive period — 120 days (4 months vs. 6 weeks), on average — to serve up new movies. Then the releases appear on television video-on-demand services at a price of about $4.99. Now the studios want to offer us new movies on video-on-demand services about 45 days after they arrive in theaters.  But, you can’t keep a copy or make a copy (your DVR, VHS or whatever won’t work). Just like a theater, once its over, its over.

So, if you are more than 2 people (+ a baby sitter), and unless you are dying to see the film on a BIG screen, I guess you might wait a few weeks.

So, what’s the big deal? For starters, the theater owners, have made it clear that releasing a movie early on video-on-demand services — thus cutting into their window — would be the equivalent of declaring war. They feel people will be more reluctant to buy movie tickets, at an average cost of almost $8, if they know they can catch the same film just a few weeks later in their living rooms, and for less money than it costs to haul the whole family to the theater. The average moviegoer spends more than $3 on popcorn and soda and the like, the cost of Friday night at the movies for a family of four can easily reach $45 – $60 — or much more in cities like New York and California.   And theater owners say this doesn’t take into account second-run and discount theaters, and that there are big exceptions: “Inception,” for instance, was still raking in millions in theaters 10 weeks after its release.

Next up, DVD retailers are fuming – Best Buy and Wal-Mart have told the studios they will retaliate against anyone who tries early-release V.O.D. because of the threat it poses to DVD sales. Huh, what DVD sales? The DVD is going the way of the CD in case anyone hasn’t noticed. Blockbuster just filed for bankruptcy. DVD sales for the year are expected to total about $9.9 billion, down 30 percent from their peak in 2004  (about $13 billion), according to Adams Media Research.

Who is the big winner here? The Studios (or so they think) because as much as 80 percent of that early V.O.D. revenue goes to them, therefore movie executives see a new way to compensate for their dwindling DVD business. And the studios are aware that consumers are growing impatient about being unable to access all movies whenever and wherever they want. An early video-on-demand option might prevent some of those frustrated customers from turning to pirated copies.

So where’s the flaw in this plan? I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, the pay-per-view business has been an anemic business since its inception on cable in 1984 when Request TV, Viewers Choice and The People’s Choice (yes, this was my company back then). Part of the problems was with the windows given to PPV movies, part was the terrible job the cable operators did to market these films to us, part was the billing mechanism (it was archaic) and part was the fact that the VHS back then and soon the DVD was simply an easier option. Not to mention you could rent the same film on VHS/DVD so much earlier than on PPV and then buy a copy to own, to watch again and again.  Second problem is that you can’t keep a copy of what you fork out $24.99 for. This just begs for pirates to hack the system (and it will happen and supposedly already has). So forget the studios argument that an early video-on-demand option might prevent some of those frustrated customers from turning to pirated copies.  Maybe at first, but I have no doubt pirated copies will turn up on the streets all the same – now just earlier and better quality DVD copies.

The fact you can’t keep a copy is just self-defeating. Instead, what the studios SHOULD be doing is giving everyone a ‘cloud’ storage locker for say, $ 10.00-20.00 a year. Once you pay $24.99, the film goes straight to your locker. Then, its kept there to be watched as many times as you want for as long as you keep the locker subscription current each year. Sure, pirated copies will still happen but there is a much better chance that people will be more willing to pay the $24.99 IF they can watch it over again, anytime, and on any ‘authorized’ device you own (i.e. mobile phone, Galaxy ‘Tab’, iPad, etc).  Apple does great job with ‘authorized’ devices and computers.

I’m sure a studio would say ‘well, then your friends can come over and see the same film without paying for it because its in your locker’. Well, its in YOUR locker, not theirs and they can come over anyway under the present scenario. And this is the same ridiculous argument studio exec’s made in the early years of the PPV business.  It didn’t stop anyone back then and only help stifle the PPV business – a misjudgment they appear are doomed to repeat once again.  Will they ever learn from past mistakes?

So, will you pay $24.99 to watch a film at home you can only see one time?  You might if it’s a title you don’t really care to much to see in the theaters. Would you have seen Avatar that way?  NOT ME!

Enhanced by Zemanta