Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Bursting the Bubble
I like Mark Cuban. Anyone who is willing to stir up some sh*t is fine by me. Kudos for the gusto.
Cuban is the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and has long been known for being an entrepreneur and champion of new ideas.
But I gotta tell ya, I completely disagree with his latest venture.
You see, Cuban is one of the promoters of the rather unusual release strategy for Steven Soderbergh's new flick "Bubble" on January 27th. It'll be released in theatres, on DVD and aired on pay-per-view tv on the same day. Wow, what a wild idea, huh?
Except, while this is great for DVD rental outlets and perhaps the ppv market, there's no upside for the theatre owners and they are, understandably, balking at the notion of screening the film.
Cuban has started blasting the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, John Fithian, for ringing the alarm bell as to what this sort of release strategy could mean to the theatre industry. ("It’s the biggest threat to the viability of the cinema industry today")
To which Cuban replied:
"How sad is it when the President of the National Assoc of Theater Owners doesn't think his members can create a better movie going experience than what we can see in our houses and apartments? Guess what John, I can whip up a mean steak, but I still like to go to restaurants. Because I enjoy it. I enjoy getting out of the house with family, friends, who ever."
To a certain extent, Cuban's argument works: If King Kong came out on tv and in theatres at the same time, I might be willing to pony up the $10+ to see it on the big screen, knowing that the size and sound would make a huge difference in my potential enjoyment of the film. But when it comes to the next Julia Roberts romantic comedy? Not so much.
Theatre owners need to get butts (and lots of them) in the seats or they go out of business. How do you get butts in the seats? Well, yes, one way is to put on a show which must be seen on a 20-foot screen and in surround sound. But another way is to have exclusivity. If an Oscar flick is getting rave reviews and everyone is talking about it around the water cooler, then you're more likely to go see it in theatres and not wait for the DVD release, months down the road. But if that same movie is available for $5 on tv in your home, why in the world would you go out and pay $10+ (per person) to see it?
And while Mr. Cuban can go out and chat it up with his friends at the local steakhouse, if he tries to have the same social interaction while I'm sitting behind him in the theatre, you can bet I'm telling him to STFU, billionaire or not.
Look, making movies costs money, and those who produce these movies are taking a financial risk in doing so. If they make millions of dollars, good for them. Not all movies make huge bank. The more revenue is lost, the more likely it is that crappier movies will come out (either low budget or sure-fire crappy tv remakes) since no one will want to take a risk on a script that pushes the envelope. Personally, I'm willing to pay $10 to see a good film and not have the ending spoiled for me with water cooler talk. And that's the balance that exists: charge me more and I'll wait for the DVD. Put out a crappy film and I'll wait for the DVD. Get rid of the exclusivity window and I'll rent the DVD.
But all things being equal, I'd rather see the film in a theatre. I don't want theatres to lose money and go out of business.
There are a ton of people who will take advantage of a simultaneous DVD release, burn copies and distribute these "pirated" versions. Who pays the price? The theatre owners and the film producers through lost revenues. (you want to know why DRM exists? Don't give them a reason to be paranoid)
So why in the world would a theatre owner support Soderbergh's film?
Would you have paid to see "Erin Brockovich", "Solaris" or "Traffic" in theatres given a cheaper at-home simultaneous alternative?
Neither would I.