Friday, September 02, 2005

Hey Hollywood, The Audience is Listening - But Ain't Buying

By Gary Kayye, CTS

According to the August 12, 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly, 40% of movie-goers say their experience in the theater is not the same quality experience it was 10 years ago. And, if the year 2005 movie box office receipts have any say in that statistic, it would seem you all agree. So far, 2005 box office sales are down eight percent for the year.

Bad Movies?

Bad Theaters?

I think not. I agree the experience isn't as good as it was 10 years ago as the theaters have all equalized - they're all pretty good now. Ten years ago, there were almost no Stadium Seating venues - I would seek one out wherever I was to get that rare experience. Dolby Digital, Sony's SDDS and THX Sound were found at only the "best" exhibition houses - I would seek them out, too. And, the reality-based special effects revolution that started with Jurassic in 1993 was in full swing with 1995 hits like GoldenEye, Jumanji, Die Hard and Crimson Tide.

The Box Office tracking organizations blame it on the quality of the 2005 movie selection. But, let's be serious here. Take a look at the number one movie of each of the last 10 years: Toy Story, Independence Day, Titanic, Armageddon, Star Wars- Episode I, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the first Harry Potter movie, the first Spider-Man movie, the third Lord of the Rings movie and Shrek 2.

You think those movies are better than the 2005 line-up? Hey, I'm a huge Star Wars fan, but Episode I was not in my top-5 of the Star Wars dual-trilogy - much less my top 5 of 1999.

So far, in 2005 the top grossing movies include Star Wars - Episode III, Batman Begins, Madagascar, War of the Worlds, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Point is the quality of movies varies every year. Every year there are good ones and bad ones. But, people go to see them.

So, what's happening in 2005?

Here's my view:

Theater to DVD: In 1995, watching movies at home was something we all did via VHS on our 30" TVs. Now, it's DVD - a system that no one denies is a heck of a lot better than VHS. And, when you put DVDs on screens larger than 30", unlike VHS, the quality gets better - not worse. But, that's just part of the equation. The time from theatrical release to DVD is much shorter than ever. It took Disney nine months to get Toy Story from a theatrical release to Blockbuster. It took Titanic eight months. But, Star Wars - Episode III will be out of DVD in November fewer than six months after its initial release. And, Batman Begins: four months. Mr & Mrs Smith: three months. Wouldn't you wait if your home theater blows away your local movie theater?

Home Theater Everywhere: That brings me to number two, the home theater. Not everyone actually has a home theater, but a heck of a lot of people say they do. Many consider their living room a home theater and measured by 1995 standards, they do, indeed, have home theater. A DTS audio receiver from Yamaha can be had for less than $250 - and for another $100, you get THX thrown in with Dolby Digital, too. The $800 high-quality DVD player of 1998, can be had in 2005 for less than $200. Heck, you can get one at Wal-Mart for $39 - or free, if you'll buy a refrigerator from them, too. So, the quality of what we have in 2005 is amazing. THE THING that movie theaters used to tout as their big advantage over anything else (besides expensive popcorn) was those big audio demos (i.e. re: "The Audience is Listening "). Now, we have that in Home Theater in a Box systems for $499 that include the DVD player, the speakers, the receiver and even the cables to hook it all up.

The Pause Button: Speaking of the DVD player, the pause button sure has become a household word via the DVD player and TiVo-like digital video recorders. Instead of spending $70 on a babysitter, movie tickets and popcorn, we can get the whole shebang for less than $10 at home - and pause it to go to the bathroom or finish watching it after the dishes are done. Top that, Hollywood.

The REAL Home Theater: Finally, the real Home Theater - or Home Cinema. For less than $10,000, you can have a Home Theater system that blows away the movie going experience at ANY movie theater in Durham, Chapel Hill or Raleigh, NC. OK, I realize that some of the big cities have the best there is, but I'll tell you what: give me an InFocus ScreenPlay 7205, a Da-Lite screen and a thousand dollars to spend on a DVD player, receiver and speakers and I'll give you a home theater that blows away most movie theater experiences. I think this is the key. I think if you took a look at that eight-percent decline in the 2005 Box Office receipts, it would be darn close to equal to the growth in 2005 of the true Home Theater market. I am willing to wait three, four or even five months for the top movies of the year when I know they will sound better (or as good as), look better (or perceptually as good as) and be more comfortable than my local Cineplex (where there was a shooting, by the way, a few weeks ago).

Oh, here's another point to ponder. The fact that the time from theatrical release to DVD release is shortening is no accident. It's planned. In fact, what you will see in 2006 and 2007 is that trend continuing and maybe even being within weeks of each other. In 2005, the money made on DVD will far in away surpass the money made in the theater for most movies; and Hollywood is noticing). What will happen first is downloadable movies (in NTSC format) will become more and more prevalent with Hollywood even pushing the services through DirecTV, Blockbuster, Netflix and TiVo. Then HD-DVD stuff will still be the standard five-to-nine-month delay that we see from movies now, but the regular quality movies will be virtually real-time. And, you'll pay for it - and we WILL pay for it. I can see the day where you will have a choice to rent a movie for download the same week it comes out in the theater for, say, $20. And, we'll pay that, too. If you'll wait three weeks, it will go down to $10, six weeks $5 and so on. I'll explain that one in the next issue - but count on it!

So, think about it: expect the growth of the Real Home Theater market to be exponential and explosive by the end of this decade. The Digital Cinema might just happen at home way before it does at the local mall.