Movies, Now More Than Ever, Or Is It Video Games?

OK, that title is a riff on a line from The Player. I loved it when the film came out and still do. It says so much of nothing, but captures a vibe that persists. Yet again it seems the film industry is in trouble, or rather doldrums. The Times reports that this year’s box office was a bit off from last year. Another favorite film industry (and maybe true for all content industry) is “Nobody knows anything.”) So as the article notes “Movies are a cyclical business” and last year’s numbers may have hangovers from the previous year’s Avatar release. Then again the prices have gone up and attendance is down so there may be a real drop in the industry. There are some better answers in the article than other wrap up stories I recall reading as a kid growing up in L.A. and devouring the Calendar section of the L.A. Times when it was good.

For example as the NY Times puts it:

What has gone wrong? Plenty, say studio distribution executives, who point to competition for leisure dollars, particularly among financially pressed young people (the movie industry’s most coveted demographic); too many family movies; and the continued erosion of star power.

One more thing: “You have to go back and look at the content,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Brothers. “Good movies always rise to the occasion. Bad ones, not so much.”

In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves, “Whoa.” Studios admitting that they compete for leisure dollars? Acknowledgement that star power is not that powerful? Furthermore, the article notes that consumers use social media and the Internet to sort rubbish copycat films from good ones” Per the Times, Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com, offers, “Because they have less disposable income and because they are more plugged in to audience reaction on Facebook and Twitter, the teenage audience is becoming picky,” he added. “That’s a nightmare for studios that are used to pushing lowest-common-denominator films.” Now let’s throw in video games. Call of Duty did $400 million dollars in its first day of sales.

In sum, the youth audience does not have huge amounts to spend and if choosing between a film that seems unoriginal and a video game, the video game often wins. And despite some odd spin about films aimed at older audiences doing well, the article also explains star vehicles aimed at older audiences failed which seems to go back to make a good movie and people are more likely to see it in the theater.

Will sequels and re-releases in 3D draw me to the theater? Yes (damn you Lucas and your 3d Star Wars ploy!)!! But would it help if there were really good new stories? Heck yeah!

For an odd closing, I offer that economists and academics in law could do well to study the way leisure dollars are spent, the demographics of the content industries, and way that some digital industries thrive while others claim to flounder. Then again, maybe nobody knows anything.