On Box Office Revenues

Roger Ebert wrote about dropping movie revenues a few days ago. Most of the things he says make sense, others less so. I thought I’d comment a bit based on my own experiences.

Before I dive in, Ebert’s full post can be read here, and it’s a very interesting read. For statistical use, I found annual box office revenues listed here. I don’t know how reputable the site is, but there you have it.

So box office revenue dropped almost 4% from last year. Considering the US is still struggling through a massive recession, I don’t see that as being so bad. For the first time in my life I’m hearing about actual countries on the verge of bankruptcy, so a luxury business like the entertainment industry dropping only4% of revenues seems pretty healthy.

Ebert cites the following as some of the reasons for the slight drop: The absence of a mega-blockbuster, high ticket and concession prices, cell phone users in the theater, other forms of delivery (blu-ray, DVD, Netflix, etc.), and lack of choice. Absent from his list is piracy, which makes me happy. I don’t see piracy as being anywhere near the threat the entertainment industry makes it out to be.

I tend to agree that a mega blockbuster like Avatar or the The Dark Knight might have inflated revenues for those years and made subsequent years pale by comparison.

I disagree with him about ticket prices. $10 for a movie seems reasonable to me, cheaper on Tuesdays, considering you’re paying for the experience of seeing it with massive screen and massive sound. You’re also paying to watch it on someone else’s property and paying for people to clean up after you. Where I get angry is the $3 surcharge for watching a movie in 3D. I hate 3D, and I avoid it if possible. When we take the kids to see a show, which the theater is only showing in 3D, and I have to pay $12 extra for the privilege of bad focus and useless poke-you-in-the-eye effects, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Give me the option of seeing it in 2D or fuck off please.

I agree with Ebert on refreshment prices. This is highway robbery, and is definitely one place theaters can improve upon. In the meantime, the solution of bringing my own things into the theater works just fine.

Lack of choice isn’t much of an issue for me. With two kids in the house, adding babysitting costs to the price of a night at the movies means I don’t get to see all the movies I want to see. If I get to the theater 5-6 times a year I’m lucky, so the lack of having 10-12 movies at a time to pick from never affected me. I went to see what I wanted to see when it was out, plain and simple.

Where I agree with him most is where other types of content delivery are concerned. I have a 60″ plasma TV with 6.1 surround sound in my basement. It kicks a lot of ass for a whole lot of movies. There’s still a huge difference when seeing a movie with action sequences and special effects, but the average romantic comedy provides the same experience whether I see it in theater or at home, and buying the averge blu-ray or DVD is cheaper than the price of 2 tickets at the movies. Where this might affect theaters the most is repeat customers. I used to go see movies repeatedly at the theaters to get the experience, now most people don’t have to since the home experience is almost as good. Also, there’s something to be said for the ability of pausing the movie to get a snack or go to the bathroom.

I haven’t used Netflix yet, but I can see the appeal. The disappearance of brick and mortar rental locations means that I’m buying discs instead of renting them. But even then, buying the average blu-ray costs me less than it would to go to the theater with my wife, more so when you factor in gas, babysitting, refreshments… We tend to reserve the theater experience for special occasions rather than as a weekly activity. I don’t see my habits changing soon, but as space becomes an issue, I can see myself migrating to digital delivery rather than purchased items. The entertainment industry would do well to focus on what it still considers to be the “after market” rather than trying to breathe life into the old method which becomes less and less appealing with each passing year, especially as it seems that movie ideas are getting recycled. In all likelihood, as home theaters get better and better, as VR comes closer to eventual reality, I think theaters will decline steeply and direct digital delivery will become the primary market and box office revenues will be an afterthought.

Ebert also says that range of choice is going to mean that newspapers and their readers are going to require movie critics more than ever. I don’t agree with this at all, and I think it’s a mark of his age. For all his modernity, he’s still a product of a different generation. I don’t remember the last time I read a movie review in an actual newspaper, and even less when I let one of those reviews decide what movie I was going to see. I follow a lot of blogs, and a lot of those bloggers review movies as part of their content. I’ve gotten to know which ones tastes run close to mine, and they’ve become the equivalent of word of mouth from friends. There’s a buzz that gets created around the movies I’d like, and I create that buzz myself by surrounding myself with bloggers who will generate talk for the types of movies which I would like to see. I think that’s the future of movie reviewing, people finding amateur reviews which come closest to suiting their tastes, growing their virtual circle of movie-going friends. Or maybe I’m not the only one and that method is already the present.

In the meantime…

2012 Resolution Progress:
2918/1,000,000 words written (0.29%)
2/2 days blogged (Target: 366/366)

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