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Tuesday, 29 April 2014 17:13

News Analysis: Katzenberg’s Crystal Ball

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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At this year’s Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Dreamworks Animation honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg predicted that, within a decade, traditional distribution patterns will be history.

  “I think the model will change and you won’t pay for the window of availability. A movie will come out and you will have 17 days, that’s exactly three weekends, which is 95% of the revenue for 98% of movies. On the 18th day, these movies will be available everywhere ubiquitously and you will pay for the size. A movie screen will be $15. A 75” TV will be $4.00. A smartphone will be $1.99. That enterprise that will exist though out the world, when that happens, and it will happen, it will reinvent the enterprise of movies,” he is quoted as saying.

You can expect plenty of exhibitor sabre rattling in response to Katzenberg’s prediction. Even if he’s correct about most movies playing themselves out within the first 17 days of release, exhibitors are justifiably concerned about the prospect of movies being available on non-theatrical platforms so soon after their theatrical debuts.  One of the things that exhibitors bank on is the combination of an exclusive availability window and the fact that seeing a movie in a theatrical setting with an audience is a very different visceral experience than watching that same movie on a 3” smartphone screen, a 10” tablet or even the 75” home theatre screen Katzenberg talked about.

If consumers know up front that they’ll be able to watch these recent movies on their personal devices within three weeks of a movie’s opening, exhibitors are understandably concerned that this rapid non-theatrical availability will encourage a very large portion of their customer base to simply wait until the home entertainment release.  It will also put a lot more pressure for those movies that do get a theatrical release to hit it big right out the gate. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that studios will focus even more the crap shoot known as big budget tent pole releases.

While I’m skeptical of Katzenberg’s prediction that the cost of seeing movies will soon be directly tied into the size of the screen, it is inarguable that digital technologies will continue to trigger major changes in the way content is produced, distributed and consumed. On the theatrical side, we’re seeing more and more alternative content from companies like NCM Fathom Events, along with improvements in projection technology, more immersive sound systems like Dolby Atmos and increasingly upscale fare at the concession stand – all to put more and more butts in seats, especially on week nights.  

On the home front, streaming products like Roku, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire are now providing easy entrée into millions of homes for producers.  Roku adds dozens of new channels every month and makes its software development kit easily available to anyone who wants to download it.  “2nd Screen” technology has become an increasingly important marketing tool as well as a new lucrative means of repurposing ancillary content.  For the past several years, industry observers have pointed out parallels between the world of online broadcasting and the rise of basic cable stations in the 1980s, with the Web serving more and more often as a means for content creators to cost effectively develop their concepts, though we’re seeing production values for web series starting to approach syndicated, and even network TV.

The point is to remind you, gentle reader, that along with the dramatic changes that new technologies bring to the world of entertainment, come new opportunities for those with vision and the ability to create, or just embrace new paradigms.  Smart producers will create platform specific products optimized for select screen sizes.  But at the end of the day, no matter what slick technological advances the public embraces, the ultimate success or failure of products, including “unscripted” and non-fiction content, depends on telling compelling stories with fascinating characters.

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