Monday, March 06, 2006

Big screen vs little

The organizers of this year's Oscars clearly told the presenters to tout the value of the big screen over the little. Throughout the evening there were references to DVD.

I found this somewhat odd. First the message itself was muddied by the fact that the actors sent to deliver it could not read from the teleprompter with conviction. Perhaps they were afraid that on TV you don't get the chance for a second take. So instead we had a bunch of actors who are unused to using a telepromter delivering flat, lifeless lines and often misreading it.

This may have magnified the odder aspect, basic rules of marketing are to tout the benefits of your own product. If you must run down the opposition get someone else to do it. Running down the opposition makes you look afraid of them. Running down the opposition at your main annual event is simply crass.

There are so many ways that the same message could be got across without mentioning DVD. Talk up the 'big canvas' that the sound editors have to work with in the theatre. Talk up the social aspects, talk up the big picture. They tried to do this but each time they did they then had to ruin it by mentioning DVD, worse still they mentioned DVD last.

Even more peculiar: the event was being hosted on TV, in the living room. So the people they were reaching out to were the TV watchers.

Will DVD kill film? Yes and no.

DVD is certainly going to kill the current business model for the film industry. It might even kill the mega budge blockbuster but I doubt it. The theatres themselves will move away from 35mm celluloid and use digital projection from a high definition DVD or a network source. And regardless of attempts to stop it the same technology will turn up in people's homes.

But old business models are replaced by new ones. Once you get rid of the celluloid and the $5000 plus cost of striking each print a lot of things change. Every film will 'open big', initial runs will be shorter but reruns will be much easier to set up. When Harry Potter V opens I through IV will do a rerun in the same theatre.

The people who are threatened by a shift in the business model are not the people who make movies, its the middle men, the distributors, producers, facilitators who get squeezed. Middlemen have to add value to survive in the online economy.

Even the theatre owners are likely to survive. People want a social experience as well as entertainment. Cinema may loose out to DVD but theatre owners will look for new forms of social entertainment. In the 1930s theatres were turned into cinemas. In the 1970s UK cinemas were being turned into bingo halls. In the 1980s the bingo halls were turned back into cinemas.

There is no shortage of demand, no shortage of technology. What we do lack is the paradigm. It took 20 years after the invention of the cinema camera for cinema to discover drama as its principle model.

What is so shocking about cinema in the digital age is the total lack of interactivity. The best audience is the one that makes least noise and disturbance to others. So what is the point of being in a group?

We have massively multiplayer games, why not have a massively multiplayer game that is genuinely cooperative and played in situ? A game designed to stimulate discussion and cooperation amongst the players?

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