The big news in the movie industry is the MPAA’s efforts to get access to Selectable Output Control: i.e., they want the keys to your DVR, because they want to control piracy. And if they can do that, they can deliver movies in a “timely” fashion. To which the Consumer Electronics Association and most especially the North American Theater Owners replied: “Oh, really, MPAA? Would you care to explain, oh, anything in your fucking statement whatsoever?” NATO in particular is pretty pissed because they think, and probably correctly, that Hollywood wants to cut them out of the distribution network altogether.
Just as fun was the recent announcement that RedBox and Netflix were taking different tactics as Hollywood freaked the fuck out over declining home theater revenues. Showing that they have never, ever had a Netflix account, Hollywood threatened to hold new releases to 30 days past the retail release window. RedBox, who would be fucked over by this, sued. Netflix said, “Sure, if you’ll cut the prices when you release it.” Netflix, in other words, understands that torrents exist, the piracy genie is out of the bottle for good, so they’re using Hollywood’s stupidity to cut their costs by enabling them to enforce a policy that will put Netflix’s competitors out of business. Well played, guys, if almost ridiculously evil.
Considering that the FCC just told the telcos that net neutrality was here to stay in what amounted to a bureaucratic version of “STFU, tits, then GTFO”, I don’t think the MPAA is going to get unfettered access to your consumer electronics (one of many reasons to vote Democratic, kids). No, this is mostly interesting in watching Hollywood flail as revenues drop.
You see, Hollywood makes the bulk of its revenue from home video. Like everything else, that’s taken a hit in the recession, especially as people have replaced all the VHS movies they want to with DVDs, and especially as Netflix, Hulu, etc. have arisen to fulfill the viewing needs of the general public. Basically, the days of fat home video profits are ending, meaning some big gambles aren’t going to be as profitable as they should be, and that’s something Hollywood desperately does not want to hear and will do damn near anything to prevent.
This is among the reasons Jeffrey Katzenberg and other Hollywood bigwigs are desperate to prove 3D is the wave of the future, even if they have to ram “Monsters and Aliens” and “A Christmas Carol” down every throat in the nation. 3D will jack ticket prices through the roof and supposedly cut down on piracy at the same time. It’s also why they have a stiffy for digital distribution, because that’ll erase print costs, lowering their back end. Getting four thousand prints across the country is not a cheap or easy proposition.
It’s worth remembering the threat of piracy is vastly overblown by the MPAA, although it is still stealing and still an asshole thing for you to do. If you compare what’s actually seized in piracy raids to the actual amounts of goods seized, there’s a pretty wide gap, usually billions of dollars. Piracy does cost Hollywood revenue, but I think the problem is a lot simpler: piracy means they’re losing control of their public relations.
Hollywood lives and dies on marketing and a tightly controlled distribution network, and it always has. Especially as it became a corporate world in the ’80s, and films were “product”, the focus has been on selling people on a movie and making sure they could only see that product in certain ways at certain times. Who cares if it’s any good?
The problem is, if a movie leaks online, anything can happen publicity-wise, and definitely distribution-wise.
The truth is, a leak usually isn’t disastrous for a movie’s gross in theaters. “Hulk”, Ang Lee’s underrated film, leaked online and got ripped apart by fanboys: it pulled down $60 million in its first weekend. “Wolverine” was leaked by somebody who wanted to sabotage the entire product, and it made $180 million in the US alone, and a bit more than that overseas. Even low budget indies can benefit, as the movie “Ink” recently discovered.
“Wolverine” is especially interesting because the buzz on it was pretty damn horrible, which is to be expected on a movie produced by Fox (motto: Ruling From the Ivory Tower Since The ’80s), under the gentle hand of a studio chairman who hates comic books. Sets were repainted, test screenings did not go well, bad reviews were everywhere and THEN the movie leaked. By Hollywood logic, everything should have ended in fire. Instead it was a decent-sized hit.
But the real money lies in DVD sales. Hollywood loses five bucks when you download a cam recording of a movie. Hollywood, to its mind, loses ten bucks when you download the DVD, even if you’re doing that instead of renting. Hell, it even loses money if you download it from Apple or Amazon: the prices are lower and they have to, begrudgingly, give Apple and Amazon a piece. They’ve gone from being able to control how the public sees their movies (in so many, many ways), to having that amount of control yanked right out of their hands.
Combine this with fewer people buying DVDs, and they’re freaking the fuck out.
Expect more attempts to grab your outputs in the future: Hollywood loves them, and yet fears them. Hm. Sounds familiar, somehow.