Big names demand no more on demand
A group of twenty three producers and directors have signed an open letter to the major studios to stop a new video on demand service that allows films to be streamed into the home just sixty days after their release in the cinema.
Reading the open letter I became more and more annoyed, it just reeks of the need to make as much money as possible through a distribution channel where the prices can keep going up and continue to ignore the consumers, the people paying those ever increasing ticket prices.
Among the names are James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo del Toro, Roland Emmerich, Shawn Levy, Michael Mann, Todd Phillips, Brett Ratner, Adam Shankman, Gore Verbinski , Robert Zemeckis, Antoine Fuqua, Todd Garner, Lawrence Gordon, Stephen Gyllenhaal, Gale Anne Hurd, Bill Mechanic, Jamie Patricof and Robert Rodriguez, people all scared that the national and global cinema chains are going to be in trouble.
Nice of them to speak up about small, independent, local cinemas, oh yes but then they can't afford the latest digital and 3D equipment that some of these big names are forcing on everyone. I do feel there's a bucket load of self-protection here, for what is this really hurting? Profits at the cinema chains, that's what.
However, let us not be so quick to judge, let's see what some of this letter actually says and see whether or not they are calling for the closing of the service, for the letter sounds a little different to the glaring headlines we're seeing.
The first quotes given in the article from The Hollywood Reporter, which has the full letter, say:
"As leaders in the creative community, we ask for a seat at the table. We want to hear the studios' plans for how this new distribution model will affect the future of the industry that we love...
...And until that happens, we ask that our studio partners do not rashly undermine the current - and successful - system of releasing films in a sequential distribution window that encourages movie lovers to see films in the optimum, and most profitable, exhibition arena: the movie theaters of America."
Okay I was with them on the first paragraph, but then they lost it on the second. America, America, America. Look, the names on this letter are big names, they know there's a world out there and they've done the travelling for marketing and festivals, so what's this with the focus on American releases?
"...optimum, and most profitable..."
Other cinemas in the world aren't so good and of course they don't bring in the money. Ah, there's the rub.
The comments go on, but here are some snippets:
"You can argue about VOD windows all day long, but what you can't deny is that there is an overwhelming outcry from the theater owners that they feel threatened by this...
...Why on earth would you give audiences an incentive to skip the highest and best form of your film?...
... The theatrical release window model has worked for years for everyone in the movie business...
...we in the creative community feel that now is the time for studios and cable companies to acknowledge that a release pattern for premium video-on-demand that invades the current theatrical window could irrevocably harm the financial model of our film industry...
...What sells for $30-a-viewing today could be blown out for $9.99 within a few years. If wiser heads do not prevail, the cannibalization of theatrical revenue in favor of a faulty, premature home video window could lead to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue. Some theaters will close."
I have a number of problems with this. First is that no one here is thinking of the consumer, well they are in a way but they're suggesting that we're dumb, cheap, and pirate things because we can. The letter actually does state that this would increase film piracy, how?
One of the biggest issues that leads to piracy is the release of something in America and not anywhere else, sometimes waiting an age to get hold of something, or the fact that the big cinema chains are so busy playing the blockbusters you just can't see the smaller films, something that video on demand is so attractive for.
Staggering releases across territories encourages piracy, if it was available everywhere, easily, then why not deliver it to the home directly and make more money because you'll be hitting more people instantly.
Then there's the issue about how the offering of the cinema is so great. Well massively overpriced food, bad projection work that isn't checked, poor sound, uncomfortable seating, these are all of the issues I face on a daily basis choosing between the many multiplexes in Edinburgh. At home I have a comfortable seat, affordable food and drink, and a great quality set-up that is attuned perfectly to the audience, me. Now allow me to watch a high quality film on that medium and I'm all up for that, I'd rather pay that money than the ever increasing cost of a ticket. James Cameron is even shouting for home 3D, so why shouldn't we be allowed to utilise it?
Then there's just the glaring fact this is about the money, that last statement clears it, US $30 compared to $9.99, what's better for the consumer? None of this is about the consumer, for offering a shorter release to video on demand is surely more choice for the consumer, something that we all want.
Better and better screens are being made and bought for the home, televisions with internet connections, high frame rates, higher resolution and 3D built in, the home cinema is being made available to everyone, surely that's where the consumer model is going? If piracy shows anything it's that people want more and more the ability to watch something, upon release somewhere in the world, at home.
One of the biggest failures of the studios to beat piracy is the inability to follow the new consumer model, and this just reeks of that problem.
My final issue is the one I brought up at the start, the one about the small, independent cinemas. These people didn't speak up like this about the squashing of those behind the national and global multiplex, and that's because their films make more money in the multi-screen cinemas that have hundreds and thousands of cinemas pumping out their film continually to the masses and not allowing other releases to share the space.
The letter states that "speciality films" and "careers that are built on the risks that can be taken with lower budget films" will all suffer, not from the large multiplexes losing audiences to the home they won't for their films aren't shown there. Speciality and low budget films are the ones we see in the local, independent cinemas, and the reason that people go to these cinemas is for that very reason.
As I read this I just can't help but feel that this is all about clinging to a release system that allows for everyone to keep raising the ticket prices to a captive audience when all the other revenue models around them are becoming more affordable and more accessible to the consumer, and you wonder why there is piracy.
Instead of bickering with the studios, why don't you look to the consumers, or to put it another way the customers, the people who give you those hefty profits.