The Internet continues to force content creators and IP-hoarders to re-imagine the future of their business models. The trouble is…no one knows where it’s all heading.
Theatrical movies are too expensive. I’m not just talking the high ticket prices or the outlandish costs at the concession stands; I’m talking the movies themselves are often too expensive for what the movies actually deliver.
The fact of the matter is that most movies don’t belong on the silver screen. That they remain there is a relic of an age when the theater was the only place to see such fare. At this time, the only movies that seem to call out for theatrical release are the spectaculars. Films so large, expensive (cast salaries aside), and visually cunning that only a theatrical release can do them justice.
And yet, the studios piss it all away by releasing the film on 20 gajillion screens on opening weekend. A few weeks later, it’s gone. How ironic that the highest grossing picture of modern times, Titanic, got there through longevity and word-of-mouth.
I do think movies that are much bigger than life, with wondrous and meaningful images for audiences to behold, are still important. These can be SF fodder such as Terminator 2, a romance such as Titanic, and so forth. However, I’d be hard-pressed to explain why Dude, Where’s My Car deserved a theatrical release. Or Gigli.
The trouble is that the other presentation streams: DVD, cable, Internet, etc. simply don’t provide anywhere near the revenue stream required to produce even modest fair. TV and pay-cable have continued to chug along, but even there the dollars simply aren’t as available as they once were. This is definitely a problem. As much as we all like getting our entertainment free (or low-cost) and easy, the fact remains that it does cost serious money to produce and distribute. Take a small, web-based show like The Guild, for example. Even on a web budget and with many volunteers, the producers still need to budget a couple of hundred thousand bucks per hour of completed show…and that’s without a lot of special effects, or location shoots, or actors that will cost you tons of money. It’s not at all cheap to do.
Even so, I think that more people will start producing their own stories. The success of YouTube and similar post-your-video services show the big studios what the music industry had to find out the hard way with MP3s: it’s only partly about the quality…content matters more. Sure, a lot of the home-grown content is as amateurish as you’d expect. Regardless, some of it resonates with what people actually want to watch (cats playing piano or jumping into/out of boxes, apparently).
I do think that movie theaters are on the way out. In an age with wide-screen panels in many/most homes, the theater loses its resonance. The studios are fighting back by putting out content in 3-d, but honestly, until/unless they can do it without requiring the audience to wear glasses, goggles, or helmets; it will never be more than a gimmick.
There will definitely continue to be a contraction as media devices and delivery systems evolve. I don’t doubt there will be some revenue sharing of access fees along the way. Some advertisers might take a page from early television and start sponsoring shows they want to present…some for the small screen, some for the ‘net. Hallmark has done a marvelous job selling its brand with its quality “Hall of Fame” presentations every year.
Social networking has certainly changed the way we are interacting with the world. With the sharing of pictures and videos, we have become a hive of nano-content producers. Even so, even if we increasingly forsake our traditional video media for gaming, and socnets, and short-shorts, I don’t think we will lose our desire for the big and the spectacular. Theaters won’t go extinct, but their numbers will greatly diminish.
Ironically, I think this will be a boon for writers. Yes, writers. The public is slowly going back to using their own imaginations. No, I don’t think the novel is going to make a huge comeback, but tales of shorter length, as well as serials, certainly will. These, too, will be modified by the changing world brought on by the Internet. As attention spans, or simply available time, shorten, the craft of creating short fiction could see a renaissance.
Like many things, the end may just bring us back to the beginning. Not because of piracy or other similar excuses, but because people realize that they don’t want to be quite so passive when it comes to being entertained. It could be just engaging their imaginations via books, it could be making their own videos, it could be living in a virtual world. None of these are without an investment from the audience.
Technology has reached a point where people are willing to throw off their passivity and participate in their own diversions and entertainment. This isn’t good news for the old-line content suppliers, but as with everything new, it will provide for hitherto unrealized opportunities for those able to recognize them (or lucky enough to stumble over them).