Bubble has come and gone with a slew of bad reviews and very few dollars left in its wake. My own review was particularly vicious because I felt it was a poor effort by an inconsistent director. However, the buzz was well deserved because the concept of releasing a film in theaters and television simultaneously is a highly compelling notion. Any time the consumer gets a choice on content delivery it is an inherently positive thing – not to be feared, but to be lauded.
The general feeling about Bubble and the simultaneous release method (a great name for a band by the way) was that it would destroy the current movie release mechanism. Only Landmark Theaters chose to open the film as it was being shown on the HDNet channel at the same time. Landmark and HDNet are both owned by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban which is probably the only way an experiment like this got off the ground in the first place. The other theater chains are terrified of the idea that movies could be released on television and hurt their already meager box office profits. The reason for this fear is built into the strangeness of the system itself, namely that studios and movie theaters are in far different businesses with far different goals.
Let’s take a look at the motivations. First off, theaters profit off concessions exclusively. The ticket revenue is split with the studios who lease the film. Theater chains don’t make enough money to stay open based on box office receipts alone. This is why both Hollywood and Theater chains have an interest in keeping movies short. More showtimes means more popcorn and tickets, everybody is a winner except for those of us forced to sit through the millionth “rushed to screen” romantic comedy.
On the other hand, studios now make almost all of their profit in DVD sales. Most theater releases don’t make a dime until they are out of theaters, which makes the partnership between studios and theaters even more unstable. This is the main reason DVD window times have shrunk dramatically in the past five years, from six months down to a meager two to three months. The motive for the studios is simple; make the opening weekend splash and then get to DVD to maximize profits while the public still remembers the film. The theaters are nothing more than another marketing technique for the studios. The theater chains themselves abhor this model because it means far more people are likely to skip going to the movies knowing they can enjoy it in their own home in 90 days. Into this frayed relationship rides senor Mark Cuban.
One thing the studios and theater moguls can actually agree upon is their disdain for Mark Cuban’s power play. This idea of showing first run movies on TV and in theaters could potentially chop theater revenue while also hurting DVD sales. The only thing it would actually help is the consumer and whatever network chose to participate in showing the movies. I’d say the pulse of most reviewers flows against this innovation as well because they think it will put movie theaters out of business and thus negate the need for reviews. Nothing could be further from the truth in my humble opinion. Let me take you on a vision of how I see this all working out.
A decade from now many less movie theaters will exist. Critics will decry the loss of this noble institution and call it the decline of western civilization but the fact is that most people would rather have a choice in viewing content. There is nothing inherently better about seeing a movie with 300 of your “not so close” friends. I for one won’t miss the coughing, over laughing, baby crying, cell phone answering teeming masses. None of these people ever see a movie with me in my living room and it’s quite nice. Furthermore there is no rule that says we have to watch movies in movie theaters. How do you eat your food? Sometimes you cook, sometimes you go out, sometimes you go to a friend’s house. What if someone told you the only option from here on out was going out to eat? Would you stand for this? Heck no, so why should you stand for someone controlling the way you enjoy content? Choice is always pro-consumer; diversity is generally positive.
The only real loss would be the viewing and sound quality theaters provide but the recent advances in surround sound and high definition have me convinced that we’ll survive somehow. I also think we’ll start seeing a wider range and breadth of film through this method. Couldn’t independent film be better showcased on something like the Sundance Channel in conjunction with the one theater in Greenwich Village? The current method of releasing an independent to four cities and then seeing what happens is perversely anti consumer and elitist. Why should NYC, L.A., Seattle and Chicago determine what people in Kansas City get to see? I say start flooding the airwaves with independent film and let the chips fall where they may. Furthermore there is no reason big budget films can’t be released simultaneously too. If the movie is great it will build momentum through television. Yes, there will be a culling of American movie houses, the ones without the latest and greatest won’t survive. Movie audiences will be cut by another 20 percent or so, which will spell doom for one of the majors such as AMC or Regal. DVD sales will go down a bit because people will be able record and burn media to DVD. As for reviewers, with more diverse content the need for intelligent opinions will be more in demand than ever. It will also be easier to review more films in a shorter amount of time via DVR’s. Fads will start because of reviewers, not because of marketing gimmicks used to bamboozle the consumer. The strong will survive. Democracy, evolution and capitalism at their finest.
Guess what won’t? Films people don’t want to see. For every reject that gets two weeks to flop around theaters will now have to show movies that will pack them in. Good film, or rather films people actually want to watch, will prosper because no one will head to the theater for something short of a good flick. Many people will choose to stay home with their kids to watch children’s films – how great does that sound? You’d be hard pressed to preach that the American family dynamic would be worse off by spending less money and having the option to hit pause.
In the future the consumer will stop getting double dipped. No longer will we have to slog out to the movies on Friday night and then purchase the film on DVD three months later. It will be one stop shopping. Yeah, theater and studio profits will decrease but I’m pretty sure I won’t lose sleep over that. If it means one less 20 million dollar payday for Tom Cruise the world will keep right on spinning. The people afraid of this change are the same people who figured crossing the Atlantic on a boat was the best way to do it because that’s how it had always been done. Fly my brothers, fly!
At the end of the day Bubble sucked, which means the revolution has been delayed. But so what? Good ideas have a way of coming to fruition. Momentum is on the side of the innovator. Will I be sad to see the grand old movie theater go? Not really. I’ll just be happy to watch a film when I want, how I want.
The book has been hella discounted here. You can email me at my first name at the email service Google owns. Choose your own adventure.