Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Why BO stinx at the flix

Unable to bridge a generational and cultural divide, theatrical movie revenues have fallen into a chasm from which they never may emerge.

For the 18th week in a row, ticket sales have slid below those of the same week in the prior year, an all-time record swoon. Year to date, industry revenues are 7% lower than in 2004. Factoring out higher ticket prices, sales are fully 10% lower than a year ago.

The box office stinks at the movies for a number of obvious reasons, including thin plots, high prices and fake butter flavoring – any of which could be resolved with sufficient resolve on the part of the industry. But the problem is worse than that.

Movies are hopelessly stuck in the one-size-fits-all mindset that worked great in the era before people could pick and choose among competing entertainment offerings. Declining sales show that consumers increasingly are viewing movies (or, actually, not viewing them) as being literally more trouble than they are worth. One recent survey, for example, found that nearly three-quarters of respondents would rather stay home and watch a DVD.

The movie audience, like all legacy media audiences, is not monolithic. It is composed of three separate groups with distinct social, cultural and economic values. Here’s who they are – and why each is getting fed up with the flicks.

The Geezers

The Geezers are old folks, like your correspondent, who fondly remember the excitement of getting dressed up on a special occasion and going downtown to see a movie at a spacious and elegant theater, where people didn’t dump sticky stuff on the floor, didn’t bring squalling babies and couldn’t talk on their cell phones because they hadn’t been invented yet.

Another attraction was that the films had plots, strong character development and decent acting. Vehicular destruction was incidental to some movies but not the primary point of most productions. Sex was suggested sensitively and nudity generally was confined to four-legged creatures and the occasional bird.

Apart from the obvious thematic limitations of the shlock produced today, Geezers are hard-pressed to find theaters where people mind their manners. Further, many of us suffer from multiplex claustrophobia, wherein too many people are jammed into too small of a room and seated too close to too large of a screen. A week after being forced to watch Batman from the second row at a mega-mini-multiplex, Newsosaur continues to nurse a stubborn case of cinematic whiplash.

The Breeders

The Breeders are the folks who are making and raising the children who, I guess, will grow up to known as Generation Alpha, since Gens X, Y and Z already are out and about. Much as they love their youngsters, The Breeders, more than anyone, could use a nice night out. The problem is that most of them aren’t exactly flush with money.

But flush is what you’ve got to be to go to the movies these days. With $19 for two tickets, $10 for popcorn and a soda, $6 for parking and $25 for a babysitter, that four-hour outing costs $60. And you still get fake butter on your popcorn.

The same money spent on one night at the movies will buy a dozen pay-per-view movies on DirecTV or four months of unlimited Blockbuster rentals. Beyond the self-evident economics, these alternatives deliver far more choice than the half-dozen titles available at the average 14-screen multiplex. They let you watch a movie when it’s convenient and rewind to the ending you missed when you fell asleep on the sofa.

The Kidsters

The primary customers targeted by movies, of course, are high school and college students and other young singles. If nothing else, the movies are a great place to be alone with that special someone. Who didn’t steal a first kiss in a darkened theater?

Although movies continue to be packed with more sex, drugs, sex, action, sex and rock ’n’roll than ever before, a growing number of Kidsters would rather make their own movies, MP3s, blogs, podcasts, games and other digital diversions. It’s cheap, fun, easy, and, if sex happens to be involved, you can join right in.

While Geezers figure it isn’t a movie unless they have seen it on a big screen, Kidsters, who grew up glued to Game Boys, computers, PDAs, iPods and mobile phones are perfectly content to get the picture, any picture, on everything from a plasma screen to a cell phone. With synapses and attention spans attenuated by years of kinetic electronic stimulation, Kidsters prize unlimited choice and maximum mobility over a medium so static, Dude, that there’s not even a remote control.

Fortunately for the movie industry, theaters still have a lot of appeal to Kidsters as a social venue. Today’s young people will keep going to the movies until greedy exhibitors price them out of the market.

But it remains to be seen whether Generation Alpha will acquire the movie habit. Saturated from birth with everything from Baby Mozart tapes to preschool computer instruction, the Alphas may be perfectly content to stay in their well-wired rooms and socialize via IM, SMS, My Space and all the other available electronic surrogates for human interaction.

If they get a craving for popcorn with artificial butter flavoring, all they’ll have to do is hit the pause button, run downstairs and make some in the microwave.


Blogger Amy said...

Maybe it's just because proximity gives a better view, but I think that 'kidster' group ought to be split. There's a big difference between my generation (just graudated from college), and the generation in high school and undergrad right now. My generation missed much of the mobility buzz. The younger generation lives on SMS's, blogging, and many other mobile/instant things they can do from their blackberries, iPods, or whatever the cool device of the moment is. And my generation likes movies a lot. I don't know about the slightly younger group, but among the people I know (in at least 3 different states), my age group goes to a *lot* of theater movies. We still appreciate that immersive experience - the picture quality, the surround sound, and, heck, just sitting in a dark room with a bunch of our own kind. From the perspective of theater attendance and media preference, it's worth dividing HS/ugrad from grad/young professional.

9:54 PM  

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