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."

That's sweet.

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.

6 comments:

Kristen said...

Phil Loses his mind but we hear NOTHING about Phil's take on the canadian election!!!??!!!!!

Rx Almond said...

Phil, you could not be more wrong. I've been going to see movies in theatres for the past few years now, despite my ability to download them FOR FREE on the Internet, with very little hassle. If somebody wants to get out of having to pay $10 or more for a movie, they have far cheaper alternatives than PPV or rental. LIMEWIRE!

And don't start on quality. Yes, some stuff available online is done with a camera in the audience and looks terrible, but just as much of it is taken directly from screeners, with very impressive video and audio.

In short: why not instantly release something for home viewing that's LEGAL, when it's painfully obvious that downloaders are going to be going for something ILLEGAL anyway. Theatre viewers will go because they want to see it in the theatre, just like it has been since downloading became common, and now those who download have a less time-consuming, legal way to just be lazy and stay at home. Sure, it may not have a drastic postive effect, but I can't see it doing any additional harm.

I'd explain myself a fifth time, but I figure I've said enough now.

PS said...

Mario, you're full of shit and you're a thief.

Your argument falls apart on the mere fact that you advocate releasing it on DVD simultaneously, because, well, people are viewing the film ILLEGALLY anyways.

Do I need to explain the term illegal to you?

You want to use Limewire, knock yourself out. Personally, I don't think we should be making it easier for folks like you to watch a high-quality version of the film in ripped or downloaded fashion by providing you a pristine DVD version (with bonus features no less) to copy from.

You say you still go to the movies, but how many MORE movies would you see in the theatres if you couldn't watch them at home via Limewire (the current illegal version of simultaneous release)?

As I've said before, I believe in copyright and that artists should be rewarded for their work. That means making money off people who are willing to pay for the value they provide through entertainment. When you use Limewire, you are robbing artists and businesses (theatres, rental houses, producers) of the income they are due for putting in the work and hours and risk required to bring that film to your eyes.

If movies were available for free (or for cheaper via DVD) all the time, what business model would there be for creating them? Advertising? Do YOU want to see ads or product placements during your movie viewing?

Sorry, pal, but if I can legally watch a romantic comedy in a theatre or in the privacy of my home while I'm macking on my woman, guess which one I'm choosing?

("Walk The Line", "Syriana", "Capote", "Good Night and Good Luck" - all critically-acclaimed movies I'd pay to see in theatres asap and certainly before the Oscars, but all of which I would rather watch for cheap on DVD than pay to see on the big screen. Exclusivity and release window is the draw.)

...and, again, the theatre loses. The viewer is happy, but the business owner is not. Why should they help kill their own business? Forget whether or not the "entertainment industry" can make money this way, we're talking about the theatre owners specifically here, since they are the ones balking.

But, in hindsight, I wish the theatre owners WOULD show Bubble. That way, when the numbers come out, they can clearly demonstrate that this is a terrible business practice - they would have the lack of ticket sales to prove it. And then they could tell Soderbergh and Cuban to stick it.

Rx Almond said...

Well, for one, I don't download movies and watch them. I did it twice in my life. Once for Freddy Got Fingered (I have no idea why I even cared to see it anyway), and once for Team America, which I subsequently purchased.

Secondly, I still don't buy your argument, because I believe that a theatre goer is going to go see a movie in a theatre, regardless of other available formats. They have proven this. They went when they could download, and they'll go when they can rent. Offering it on DVD at the same time is an experiment in seeing whether or not they can take a bite out of the downloader "market." I don't see it as a bad thing at all. The movies have always been available on release day outside of the theatre (downloads, bootlegs, etc.), so this just ensures that when these non-theatre goers access the movie, the studio stands to see at least some revenue come over from that previously entirely illegal group.

I know that artists deserve money for the works they've created. This new delivery method is meant to appeal to the very people who are currently stealing their work. I can see why theatres are scared, but I don't think this will have nearly as much of an impact as they fear, because this delivery method has been in place forever. It's just that now they're trying to achieve this through legal distribution. I don't understand how this could be a problem.

I am neither full of shit, nor a thief. So cram it, Sullivan!

PS said...

"Secondly, I still don't buy your argument, because I believe that a theatre goer is going to go see a movie in a theatre, regardless of other available formats."

Huh? Other than illegal downloading, what other available formats are there to a film currently in theatre release? And I've already plainly stated, as a theatre goer and (I think you'll agree) movie fan that I would not see the average flick in a theatre given a cheaper DVD alternative.

"Offering it on DVD at the same time is an experiment in seeing whether or not they can take a bite out of the downloader "market.""

First off, this is not an experiment for Cuban, he actually thinks this should be the norm. Second, it isn't the entertainment industry that's objecting (if a movie wants to go straight-to-video, knock yourself out (see any C. Thomas Howell movie of the last 15 years). It's the THEATRE OWNERS who are objecting and whom Cuban is blasting.

Although you may not intend it to be, Mario, this is a reflection of the lack of distinction many downloaders make: the entertainment industry is one big "they" to them and they don't feel sorry for taking a "small bite" out of their billion dollar industry. But there are many cogs to the entertainment wheel and some are more affected than others.

"I can see why theatres are scared, but I don't think this will have nearly as much of an impact as they fear, because this delivery method has been in place forever. It's just that now they're trying to achieve this through legal distribution."

Huh? Are you serious? You're betraying your age, young man. Since Napster was created in June 1999 I fail to see how simultaneous releasing has been around forever. And we both agree that a guy with a honking pre-1999 video cam is irrelevant to this argument, so forget video. Or are you referring to the theatres themselves? Speak clearly, man!

The fact is, the more "accepted" it is to download movies (which it will be as the internet kids grow up), the more we turn a blind eye to this circumventing of theatre owners' exclusivity window, the quicker theatres will die out and the more the quality of films will be affected. Allowing simultaneous distribution by DVD and PPV simply accelerates this rate of decline.

Sure, films will continue to exist and the entertainment industry can still make a buck somehow, but THEATRE OWNERS will be screwed if there are not enough butts in the seats.

Cuban should not feign surprise at their reluctance to follow his vision.

And as for your thieving ways, Mario, I seem to recall you shopping for Team America (and a few other films) on Spadina Avenue...

So cram it.

...see you at the Penthouse,
PS.

Rx Almond said...

Spadina, shmadina. Let's call the whole thing off.