“Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not “Mr. Lebowski.” I’m The Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or, uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.—The Dude, The Big Lebowski, Polygram Entertainment, 1998
Look, there is no one who wants to see the big theatrical window and big red-carpet events return than the folks in and around Dalton, Georgia. They make 90% of the wall-to-wall carpet in the entire world! Every film festival, awards banquet, film unveiling, any excuse for a big party uses their stuff… lots of their stuff. But they’ve gotten over it, moved on, so maybe the entertainment industry can.
Folks blame everyone for the declining interest and seats in seats. It’s true, the pandemic messed up a lot of things. However, budgets, prices, and viewing/entertainment options have been rising for decades, and while everyone wants to be involved in a project that has a $100 million budget, they don’t make the industry hum. Good story line, great shooting/post, and credible acting count more than dollars, pounds, euros, and rupees. Dropping more money on a film/show doesn’t mean you can count on it being a profitable venture.Most of them don’t provide profit or ROI (return on investment) for the studios and backers.
Theatrical release windows have been shrinking for years as studios and content backers weigh their options—TV, airlines, discs—oh yeah, and streaming.
Actually, one of the most profitable projects was never even shown in a theater: Behind the Green Door. It cost $60,000 to make, and the last time anyone tallied its total sales (2007), it had raked in $25 million. One of the most profitable horror films, The Blair Witch Project, cost $60,000 and made about $250 million.
Obviously, how much you invest in the project doesn’t guarantee how many screens the film will be seen on or how many seats will be in seats. Still, more than 208,000 movie house screen owners couldn’t have asked for a much better second half of 2022—Top Gun, Black Adam, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Ticket to Paradise (Surprise!), Halloween Ends, Woman King, Avatar (re-release), Avatar: The Way of Water, and dozens of other projects large and small that were seen regionally or globally depending on the budget.
Whether you drop $10 million or $100 million plus on a film, you want to squeeze every bit of profit out of it as possible, which is what theater owners are counting on to sell more popcorn. Studio owners, project managers, and folks with skin in the game are also pushing for their back-end paychecks as well as street cred for the next creative offering that comes their way.
Look, there are very few folks in the film industry who call their own shots and lay down their own rules; but for most industry workers, money talks and BS walks.
We admit, there are a whole lot of good writers, producers, directors, actors, shooters, and post-production folks in the industry. There are fewer great ones. And there are talents like Tom Cruise and James Cameron who say, “I’m doing this project, and here are the rules.” And investors say, “Yeah, whatever… here’s the check.”
Not that they’re that good, but they have a backlog of credibility in being able to deliver a film that delivers.They’ll deliver people back to theaters no matter what and put seats in seats. Back when things started to return (about midyear), 58% of the theater owners and operators were sure things would return to normal within a few months.
Jeez, folks, the number of people going to the movie house has been on a steady downhill trend since 2002. If it weren’t for the fact that theaters charged more for the tickets and jacked up the prices on the greasy/salty popcorn, sweet drinks, and assorted empty-calorie junk food, more than just Cinemax would have filed for Chapter 11 or worse.
The majority (two-thirds) felt that ticket sales would never get back to the good old days. Hey, folks, the good old days weren’t that good! But that’s beside the point.
The real issues are that:
- Most films/shows today are funded/produced by folks who own streaming video services—Netflix, Disney, WBD, Paramount, Amazon, Hotstar (Disney), iQiyi (Baidu), Youku (Alibaba), Tencent, Apple, Sky, BritBox, Canal, Iroko, Vodacom, Safaricom, KIWI, and 600-plus others.
- Streaming services are pushing to steadily raise their subscription numbers and increase their MAU (monthly average users), which requires a never-ending stream of new, fresh, increasingly expensive content.
- Day date releases to theaters and the streaming service customer base is a dumb idea (there, we said it!). But not all the content “deserves/needs” a big screen because they were envisioned, created, produced for the small screen, and throwing them on the big, big screen is a disservice to the creative crew and audience.
- Streaming content—and the fading pay-TV stuff—is created for the masses to attract and hold, for a while, as many eyeballs as possible.
Personally, we believe streaming services and studios need a theatrical window—7–90ish days—depending on the project’s investment because:
- Attendee and “critic” noise builds excitement and anticipation for a project before it gets wide distribution.
- Theatrical presence adds a certain amount of added credibility that the movie is really a movie.
- As dumb and outmoded as the award event rules are that a film has to first be seen for X days in Y movie houses before it’s eligible for a statue, streamers have to live with it. After all, the statue gives the project even more noise/viewer interest, and yes, it makes everyone on the team feel really, really special.
Forget about seeing Top Gun: Maverick and both Avatars. There are others that you’ll see streamed to your screen after some theatrical window. They may be streamed, but boy, will you be disappointed. They were envisioned as giant-screen spectaculars from the get-go, and watching them squeezed down to your 75-inch screen or the 6-inch screen in your hand would be terribly disappointing.
We can’t blame the disappointing moviegoing experience too much on the theater owners because most invested in their theaters while you were away—upgrading audio-visual technology, making seats more comfortable, and introducing consumer-friendly subscription. However, over the past 10–15 years, only about 40% of the films that racked up decent ticket sales were original. Most were adapted from existing work, sequels, prequels, spin-offs, remakes, or reboots.
According to more than a few film analysts, only about 15% of the top-grossing films passed the originality bar. Instead, the new Hollywood focuses on bigger… bigger production budget, bigger marketing budget, bigger noise during the news cycle, bigger focus on the gross—more than $1 billion worldwide—even if it’s not a five-star or deemed Fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes scale.
Studio executives strutted big time when their superhero sequels, prequels, and spin-offs had a decent run this past year. Horror films have become edgy, scary thrillers rather than horror films. Super technologies during shooting, editing, and production have built anticipation and excitement, surprise, replacing fumbling blood and gore in the projects. For the most part though, both genres suck for the older moviegoer and don’t inspire the youth.
The George Clooney/Julia Roberts Ticket to Paradise movie surprised everyone in the industry, probably including Universal and the Roberts/Clooney duo because rom-coms just weren’t supposed to suck seats into seats like the film did—young/old, male/female.
Spoiler: Expect to see a new group of rom-com adventures being offered on all the screens in late 2023, but don’t let ultra-paid studio/streamer bosses, prima donna producers, or bulldozer actors kid you. Sure, they take credit for the hits and fire someone/anyone for the misses. And guess what? They’re missing one very important point—15- to 24-year-olds make up the biggest portion of movie house audiences and a decent/influential chunk who watch the streaming stuff.
British film theologist (our title for him, not his) Stephen Follows pointed out some years back that these are the folks that cram their seats into seats. They’re the ones who influence the older crowd to catch a flick, movie, or show. In addition, age is on their side. If they’re 20, and the 40- to 50-year-olds they influence go to a bunch of movies or sign up for a given streaming service, it means they have 20-plus more years to spend watching your stuff than the older crowd.
Viewing and entertainment habits form early and usually stick with us as we get older, so industry execs need to plan now for tomorrow’s seat-filler/viewer or plan to retire before….
This photo taken at the beginning of the pandemic best explained video entertainment needs to survive and grow regardless of the obstacles.
The major streaming services are investing in a breathtaking amount of new content—across all genres—to sign up as many of the 500 million to 1 billion subscribers as possible. Combined, Disney, Netflix, Amazon, and WBD are investing more than $80 billion. While they’re investing heavily in their own projects, there is a significant expansion in the acquisition of indie content, which accounts for more than 60% of the world’s film/show production.
The disparity in true subscriber numbers is something no one is really certain of. No one has verified if they’re counting individual subscriber households or if a household with five subscriptions is counted as five separate customers. It does and doesn’t matter because industry analysts are all saying that by 2025, we’ll have more than 1.6 billion subscribers. But if the households average five services each, that means everyone is chasing after a smaller potential audience.
We know it doesn’t really matter, but we’d like to know how many people are really on the other side of the screen.
It mattered in The Dude’s household in The Big Lebowski when he told the film/streaming service analyst,“Do you see a wedding ring on my finger? Does this place look like I’m f—ing married? The toilet seat’s up, man!”
Yeah… that’s a good sign but a little bit too much oversharing! Even more than the carpet producers want to know.