Industry Concerns Are Valid, With No Clear Solution in Sight21 Jul, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold
I call this my sandwich week. Last week was the 36th annual Comic-Con International, which has turned into one of the movie industry's key annual showcases. Next week, it's VSDA's Home Entertainment 2005, the trade association's 24th annual confab and still the premier annual event for the home entertainment industry.
Both shows come as dark clouds are blowing over their respective skies. The box office slump may have ended with the spectacular opening of Fantastic Four, but spending on movie tickets is still down about 8 percent from last year. And despite the flurry of news reports that movie attendance may be down because everyone instead is buying DVDs, the DVD business itself is fast approaching maturity and growth is starting to slow.
There's a lot of hand wringing going on in Hollywood, amid fears that even darker times may lie ahead.
On the theatrical side, the concerns are cultural: Is the population slowly but steadily shifting away from the traditional Saturday night at the movies in favor of some other entertainment option? Are consumers finally getting fed up with soaring movie ticket prices, shrinking screens and greasy fake butter on their popcorn? Are walk-in theaters going the way of the drive-in? Good questions, all — and none of them easily answered. The down box office could be a blip, a temporary reaction to a string of ho-hum movies — or it could be the beginning of a dramatic cultural shift.
In the DVD arena, the concerns are technological. DVD is 8 years old, and the early adopters have amassed huge libraries of DVDs and are much more selective in what they buy. The latest wave of DVD adopters, meanwhile, could hardly be considered rabid consumers of home entertainment. If they waited this long to ditch the VCR, they're hardly going to run out and buy everything that's available. Home entertainment is an afterthought, not top of mind.
The solution, then, is to start all over again, which is where high-definition fits in. In an ideal world, a high-def successor to DVD hits the market just in time for the holidays and gets everyone to buy their libraries all over again. But in reality, we have two rival formats that will likely come to market around the same time, confusing consumers and minimizing the chances of a huge launch. Heck, under some worst-case scenarios, the lack of a unified high-def format could kill the packaged media business, disenfranchising consumers and hastening the development of viable electronic delivery options.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. I don't think that applies here. In both the theatrical and the DVD worlds, Hollywood's fears are very valid. Clearly, we need to do something. What remains very unclear, however, is what, exactly, should be done.