The cyberhacking of Sony Pictures last December led many Americans to wonder: “Is this the end of the movie industry as we know it?”
Yet Hollywood doesn’t need cyberattackers–whether from North Korea, as the FBI alleges, or fired ex-employees of Sony, as others believe–to seek its destruction.
It has long been its own worst enemy.
On July 22, 2014, a headline in the Hollywood Reporter offered this insight into moviedom’s current woes: “Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter.”
It’s hard to think of an industry that’s created a better recipe for self-destruction than the movie business.
Consider the following:
According to Rentrak, a company that keeps tabs on box office profits:
- Ticket sales to movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada are expected to sink to $3.9 billion.
- In July, movie ticket sales were down 30%.
- That’s a 15% decline in movie revenues when compared to those racked up during the summer of 2013.
- For the first time in 13 years, no summer film netted $300 million in domestic ticket sales.
Among this summer’s films that disappointed movie studios:
- “The Expendables 3″
- “Planes: Fire and Rescue”
- “Amazing Spider Man 2″
- “Sex Tape”
- “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
- “Edge of Tomorrow”
- “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
- “How to Train Your Dragon 2″
Analysts had predicted a drop-off in movie attendance owing to increased use of online streaming. They also expected major television events like the World’s Cup to keep moviegoers indoors.
But they didn’t expect the summer of 2014 to prove the worst in ticket sales since 1997.
Actually, the wonder is that the movie business hasn’t collapsed already.
It’s hard to think of an industry more geared toward its own destruction than the movie business.
First, there’s the before-mentioned average ticket price of $8.33. You don’t have to be an Einstein at math to multiply $8.33 by, say, a husband, wife, and two to four children.
So a couple with two children can expect to spend at least $33.32 just to get into the theater. A couple with four children will be gouged $49.98 for a single movie’s entertainment.
And that’s not including the marked-up prices charged for candy, soda and popcorn at the concession stand.
Second, it’s almost guaranteed that even the biggest potential movie “draw” will be released on DVD or streaming within three to six months after it hits theaters.
Putting out a film on DVD so soon after its theater-release only cheapens the thrill of seeing it in a movie theater.
So if you need to save enough money each month to meet the rent and other basic needs, you’re likely to wait it out for the DVD to hit stores. Wait even longer than six months, and you can probably buy a cheaper used DVD.
With that, you can watch your new favorite movie as many times as you want–-without being charged bigtime every time you do so.
This is especially tempting to those with big-screen TVs, whose prices have steadily fallen and are now affordable by almost everyone.
Third, there are the TV-like commercials that overwhelm audiences waiting for the movie to start.
There used to be an unspoken agreement between theaters and moviegoers: We’ll pay a fair price to see one movie. In return, we don’t expect to see commercials.
Naturally, that didn’t include previews of coming attractions. These have been a widely enjoyed part of the movie experience since the 1930s.
But starting in 2003, theaters began aiming commercials at their customers before even the previews came on. Some industry sources believe cinema advertising generates over $200 million a year in sales.
Even so, it turns movie-theaters into expensive TVs, and thus cheapens the special experience of seeing a movie in a theater.
But for those who feel they’ve already suffered enough at the ticket booth, being forced to watch TV-style ads is simply too much.
Fourth, while some theaters provide lush seating and special help for their customers (such as closed-captioning for the deaf) many others do not.
At AMC theaters, an onscreen advisory tells you to seek help if you need it. But your chances of finding an available usher range from slim to none at most theaters.
To sum it up: What was once thought a special experience has become a jarring assault on the pocketbook and senses.
Just as airlines are now widely considered to be “flying buses,” so, too are movie theaters fast becoming expensive TV sets for moviegoers.
In the 1950s and 1960s, theaters lured customers from small-screen TVs with film spectacles like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus.” Or with new “you-are-there” film experiments like Cinnemascope.
“Family-friendly” movies like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” proved box-office champs with millions.
But now theaters have allowed their greed–for high ticket prices, quick-release DVDs and/or streaming and TV-style ads–to drive much of their audiences away.
Unless the owners of movie studios–-and movie theaters–quickly smarten up, the motion picture business may ultimately became a pale shadow of its former Technicolor self.