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Note to NATO

7 Dec, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

I hate to beat up on the theatrical part of the industry, but they're just making it too easy these days.

At a Nov. 30 panel discussion, National Association of Theater Owners president John Fithian did his best to defend the theatrical window. But I marvel at how the group's arguments for keeping that window as it is are really arguments against the model.

Fithian said simultaneous releases in theaters and on other platforms would show up in lower production values and would "homogenize the entertainment product" to the industry's detriment.

John, that ship has sailed.

As regards your membership, they long ago chose to forego the promise of the multiplex and homogenize across screens. Hit movies are hits in a weekend or two — and only for a weekend or two — because theater operators put the same movie on all the screens.

Instead of going to the theater in the hope of getting a ticket for the movie you wanted to see and occasionally having to settle for another movie playing on another screen, everyone gets to see the movie the first weekend, then they have no reason to go back to the theater until the next event movie comes along. This year has showed us all how that turns out.

You said theater owners are in the business of creating a shared experience. True enough. But I don't want to share the experience with rude patrons. And I don't want to have to make the choice of getting a good seat or waiting until the 20 minutes of ads are over before I go in and take potluck.

On the studio side, you suggested Hollywood would not stand for the homogenization of the product. You must have missed a memo. The flood of bad remakes and bad sequels this year is about as homogenous as movies get.

The studios should be ashamed of the tripe they have tried to foist on us this year. Sadly, they are following the music industry's lead down that path, taking anything that was successful once and stamping out endless cookie-cutter copies.

But often the reason those acts and films work the first time is because they are new and sometimes even original. Once you copy them, they lose the very thing that made them interesting. Remaking the same stories and franchises is pennywise and pound foolish. You may not have to shell out for new ideas, but then you don't get the ROI on most of them, either.

Take a lesson from Wal-Mart and the game companies. Try manufacturing a shortage. At Wal-Mart it's the loss leader and at the game companies it's low production, but either way they sustain demand (and Wal-Mart picks up the incremental sales on other items) for a long time after the initial date. In theaters, it's called variety. Give us a choice of movies, never playing the same show on more than two screens at a time.

Otherwise the studios will have to hawk DVDs from your lobbies to make sure they get a sale before people lose interest.

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