Joe Roth, former studio head and erstwhile producer, could not help but stage manage his keynote appearance at Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit on Monday, asking to move his chair up closer to the aud at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica. He then held forth on a number of topics, stressing the benefit of marketing through social media. Before he was done, he also championed the notion that studios once again own theaters in the U.S. This has been a no-no for more than 60 years, but Roth, who got caught in the crossfire between Disney and international exhibitors over “Alice in Wonderland,” argued it no longer makes sense. My Variety story on the confab is here.
Top execs admitted they don’t know the answer to sweeping technological changes but said they can’t wait until the dust settles to figure it out. My report from the Milken Global Conference panel on the outlook for the entertainment industry.
Getty Images, which has been aggressively going after the U.S. entertainment photo biz since at least 2003, scooped up Hollywood stalwart Berliner Studios late last month. I was in charge of Variety’s event coverage when Getty came on the Hollywood scene and can attest to the turf battles between it and rival agencies. Variety, you see, had a deal with Getty, which was determined to get as much access as possible.
Variety also held a day long conference for BritWeek late last month. British reality king Nigel Lythgoe, who helped found the celebration, sounded off on his difficulty getting American networks to take his advice.
The ailing chain is touting today’s availability of “The Blind Side” at Blockbuster stores, by mail or on demand. Netflix and Redbox, which recently agreed to a 28-day rental window in exchange for improved terms, does not yet have access to the movie, which notched an Oscar win for Sandra Bullock earlier this month.
The question: How much will this new window help the chain, and rental stores in general, compete against popular Netflix and Redbox? Blockbuster is making a big deal out of the fact that it’s the only “multi-channel provider” with access to big movies on street date. But is it really that great a selling point with consumers?
Studios would prefer consumers buy their movies on disc or via download. Barring that, they would prefer consumer rent movies on demand or at a Blockbuster; the economics are better that way. (Netflix operates on a subscription-based model; Redbox’s bargain pricing is considered a threat to sales, VOD and revenue-sharing rental chains like Blockbuster.)
As for digital: The release carefully notes that existing deals remain in place. The updated deal only applies to DVD and Blu-ray.
So no, bloggers, the studios aren’t really giving Blockbuster scandalously preferential treatment. They’re just agreeing to continue supplying the ailing chain with discs at a time its future looks shaky.
UPDATE: LATimes reports that the new revenue-sharing arrangement improved terms for both parties.
Blockbuster release (via paidContent)
At the time, his comments seemed incredibly self-serving: Warner Bros. was already trying to impose a window on Netflix and other subscription-based rental services. If stores renting movies on a disc by disc basis followed suit, Netflix wouldn’t be operating under a competitive disadvantage.
So Hastings talked about the advantages of such a scheme. “If we can agree on low-enough pricing,” the LAT quoted Hastings saying, “delayed rental could potentially increase profits for everyone.”
And maybe Hastings could get more access to movies for streaming purposes, which is what HE really wanted. Under the vagaries of studio window policies, Netflix has access to movies for a limited period.
Sure enough, that’s what happened. Netflix, Ben Fritz reported in the LAT, got a price break, and more content for its streaming service. Don’t be surprised if other studios broker similar deals with Netflix, and potentially Redbox as well.
The question remains, however, whether ailing chains like Blockbuster will take a similar deal. Even if they did, however, I would expect indies to try and find ways to subvert any DVD sales window studios attempt to impose on rentailers industrywide.
Manohla Dargis’s barbaric yawp about Hollywood went viral yesterday, and for good reason: The NYT critic let loose on rampant sexism in an interview with feminist-leaning Jezebel, spewing four-letter words with abandon. The interview made explicit that which her Sunday NYT essay on female directors suggested: She’s deeply pissed off about studios that repeatedly fail women in their choices of material and talent.
Among the many choice bits:
Working within the system has not worked. It has not helped women filmmakers or, even more important, you and me, women audiences, to have women in the studio system.
and a personal pet peeve — the constant surprise that women like seeing entertaining movies about women:
This, gee whiz, Sex and the City‘s a hit, Twilight, hmm, wonder what’s going on here. Maybe they should not be so surprised. In the trade press, women audiences are considered a niche. How is that even possible? We’re 51 percent of the audience.
It’s not just the trade press, either; this surprise seems to creep into consumer box office reports as well.
Dargis is equally scathing about the suggestion that she take it easy on films directed by women, calling the notion “incredibly insulting.” But mostly she hopes that Kathryn Bigelow (pictured above) wins the Oscar for directing “The Hurt Locker,” a muscular action movie.
The first movie I saw — okay, maybe it was the second — was “The Jungle Book.” My brothers and I loved the movie, so naturally we were tickled pink when our grandmother gave us the soundtrack, singing along over and over to “The Bare Necessities.” (My Dad was less charmed, since the album was a free giveaway from Texaco and he was a loyal Arco company man.)
Anyway, I especially loved Baloo’s joie de vivre. Louis the alligator shares that same spirit in “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s first hand-drawn toon in five years. You simply can’t create characters like that through computer animation, Disney toon king John Lasseter recently told me for this Variety story.
The directors, who have been known Lasseter for decades, felt like they had something to prove with the movie, as did the cast and crew still smarting from Disney’s decision to abandon hand-drawn animation in 2002. They tried some different styles — evoking painting of the Harlem Renaissance in one fantasy sequence and going psychedelic for the villain — and while those gambits didn’t always work, the movie was pleasantly upbeat in the way you could always count on Disney toons to be. The young crowd at the Bridge screening — mostly African-American, incidentally, for a toon with the Mouse House’s first ever black heroine — really seemed to enjoy it, barely fidgeting even during the goopy romance scenes.
The studio has at least two more hand-drawn toons in the works. First up: a new “Winnie the Pooh,” another childhood fave with its share of sing-along tunes. “Surf’s Up” co-director Chris Buck is busy on another.
“Hi Paula. It’s Joey.”
Only then did I realize that the flamboyantly-dressed gent across the room was Joe Pantoliano aka Joey Pants aka Ralphie Cifaretto from “The Sopranos.” Thesp commandeered the microphone at Variety’s Future of Film Summit to quiz keynote speaker Paula Wagner, she the former partner with Tom Cruise and head of UA. Why, Joey wanted to know, were studios asking him to take 80% to 90% pay cuts without offering him a piece of the action? Specifically, why did Warner Bros. ask him, a working class actor, to take an 85% cut? After all, he said, Fox gave him a piece of “Daredevil.”
Wagner, a one-time actress who made her bones as an agent and now toils as an indie producer, had no easy answer for Joey Pants. Later in the day, however, QED founder Bill Block, another former agent, stressed the need to give talent a “a fair shake with a real transparent back end,” adding, “We need to find our way to a better model that rewards today’s box office performance.”
Throughout the day, panelists stressed the need for filmmakers to trim costs in line with the realities of today’s movie economics. But studio execs, Pantoliano pointed out, have not been willing to do the same. Hence, the hard feelings.
“At what point do we not need studios anymore and when do they start taking that cut?” he implored.
Again, no easy answer.
How long will studios continue to defer to exhibitors on theatrical windows? Does it make sense for them to do so as other windows collapse further down the distribution chain?
In the past few weeks, NATO, the trade org for theater owners, has won concessions twice. First, Paramount delayed the homevid debut of “The Goods” to make amends for a speedy release of “G.I. Joe.” More significantly, Sony abandoned its plans to release “This Is It” on DVD for the holidays due to pushback from theaters.
Sony argued that the movie was different given its limited theatrical release, the LAT reported yesterday, but theater owners did not see it that way, and the studio ultimately backed off.
“We didn’t want it to be an issue,” Sony’s Jeff Blake told the LAT. “At the end of the day, we wanted a big theatrical run and they certainly stepped up and supported that.”
Apparently studios are considering a sales-only window for DVD releases as a way to combat sliding sales and fight back against cheap Redbox rentals.
There are many reasons why this is a bad idea.
1. Rental stores will be able to buy discs and rent them, just like they did in the early days of home video. According to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who disclosed the plan during yesterday’s earnings call, retailers might be willing to wait if studios price rental discs cheap enough.
2. But consumers eager to watch the movies will just do so other ways — through pirated versions or VOD. How much will it increase or protect sales? Hard to say.
3. They risk pissing off consumers who are used to renting the movies right away. Pissed off consumers might then feel justified viewing contraband.
4. They can’t stop retailers from renting movies under the sales window due to a little thing called the First Sale Doctrine.
Hastings interest in this scheme should not be overlooked. At least one studio — that would be Warners — is trying to impose a later rental window on Netflix, arguing that its subscription based business should not be considered the same as video stores than rent on a disc by disc basis. Also not to be forgotten: Hastings really wants to focus on streaming movies; that’s been his goal since he founded the company. The technology wasn’t there yet then.
But it sure is now.
For more on studio plans, read Ben Fritz’s LAT story.
Been meaning to weigh on the book price war, but was caught up in a few assignments and didn’t get to it.
Here’s the thing: Price wars are not new. Chains use popular books and videos as loss leaders for bigger purchases.
Independent stores and content providers don’t like it. But does it destroy the fabric of our nation? In its request for a Dept. of Justice investigation, the American Booksellers Assn. predicted just that. Consider:
We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.