The Business of Business..

Live from London's glittering South Bank..

How are we still here? I mean God knows they’ve tried hard to kill us off over the years. Since the early silent days the demise of cinema has been confidently predicted as imminent.

I’m not sure where the threat came from in 1920, increasing sales of hoops and sticks possibly?

Telly was going to do for us, then home video and now presumably on demand “content” is the final nail in the somewhat nail ridden coffin.

I had a discussion about pay per view recently with a very good friend and film maker. This is the way forward apparently, there’s no time to go to the cinema, if a film is available on Apple TV then that’s a much better way to “consume” the film.

Presumably when combined with supermarket deliveries there will be no need to even get out of bed in a few years? Everything will come to you.

Coming from a film maker this struck me as very odd, because I’ve sat and watched films with them and pretty much everything goes on except watching the film. Looking at phones, playing with dogs, checking Facebook and so on.

As someone who’s made films, I really like the audience to give all my hard work their full attention for the short time they’re watching.  Naive I know, but I’m sure she feels the same way.

This has all been debated endlessly elsewhere of course. I mention it because somehow we find ourselves offering our own kind of pay per view scenario.

I’m talking about the wildly successful live transmissions of opera, ballet and theatre that we started last year. So anything you can do..

In the last year we have sold over 12000 tickets for live events. These include opera direct from The Met in New York, ballet live from Covent Garden and The Bolshoi in Moscow, transmissions from The National Theatre often have to be shown on two screens simultaneously they are so popular, in fact many of them would have sold out all three screens.

It’s not often in business, particularly in a mature one like cinema, a whole new line of revenue opens up but that’s exactly what “alternative content”, as it’s rather insipidly called, is.

We’re seeing people coming through the door that we wouldn’t see too often for movies turning up on a regular basis. Some of our lovely customers have bought tickets for every one of the Met operas, all eleven of them.

At £23.00 a seat, this is remarkable, and I’d like to thank them all personally. If I had time to invite you all round for dinner I would.

All sounds wonderful doesn’t it? And it mostly is. If I had one gripe about The Met opera it would be that it comes to us on a Saturday evening. Knocking out at least two evening shows on the busiest day of the week.

There’s no pleasing some people is there?

It is, however, a potential sticking point. Film distributors aren’t too happy about losing two shows on a Saturday night from their mega expensive 3D dancing robot penguin movie.

Can’t say I blame them, but one opera show is often the top grosser over the entire weekend, beating nine shows of the aforementioned blockbuster.

So what am I to do? Play the opera is what I have to do, because all this extra revenue means I stand a much better chance of still being open when 3D dancing robot penguin movie 4 comes out.

Monday mornings can also be tricky, working out times when there’s an opera, a ballet and film society as well as four or five films to get in can be a real headache.

Particularly, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, we’re not totally the masters of our domain. Distributors can make demands about running time that seem insane to the casual observer.

Why it seems a good idea to force shows on us that we all know no one will turn up for is still a mystery to me after 35 years in the business.

Flexibility of playing time is an example of how studios in particular are having to drag themselves, albeit kicking and screaming, into the brave new digital world.

In many cases the more flexibility we are afforded the longer a film will run. Only this week a studio would rather have taken a film off than drop one show a day at a time when absolutely no bugger was going to come , whilst it was still taking big money at other times. Insane, outdated, and ultimately bullying behaviour.

If I had one other concern about alternative content, it’s that I want to keep it for myself and other independents.

It seems multiplexes are waking up to this potential market and I’m petrified they are going to kill the goose the laid the golden egg with their rather indifferent attitude to picture and sound quality.

Fortunately I’m pretty sure the audiences for opera and the like are the ones who really don’t like going to multiplexes.

We can only hope.

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7 thoughts on “The Business of Business..

  1. I bought an Apple TV (decoder) last Christmas and have used it precisely twice since then. Why? Because it didn’t work properly. Setting it up was a nightmare. Then, when it was finally set up, it would work for perhaps an hour, then freeze solid, never to return. Its ability to hold signal from the home wi-fi was pathetic. It’s been consigned to the ever-expanding box containing bust IT gear. It wasn’t bought to replace visits to The Picture House; merely to play some old films that would look better on the plasma than they do on the lap-top. Not a huge threat, therefore…

  2. Didn’t even realise anyone actually bought the Apple TV product…

    As for anything else coming and killing the cinema, I highly doubt it. It’s still pretty much appreciated that if you like a film or really want to see a film, it’s best to see it in a full blown cinema. It’s just to irresistably sexy to ignore.

    Until producers stop making epic films (Dark Knight Returns and Hobbit are ones I’m most looking forward to next year), i’m pretty sure you’ll survive. You do a pretty damn good job of advertising/getting your business out there, and I hope it works well.

    Hopefully the distributors do finally let films be shown when they’re most profitable,and only when they’re most profitable. It’s quite ridiculous how desperate they are to get particular films out to beat competition (Spanish Cat vs Chipmunks vs Penguin at the mo) whereas some amazing films get no decent time slots or marketing at all.

  3. I have an Apple TV but it hasn’t taken the place of the cinema – it’s taken the place of the poor old video shop on the corner! I use it to rent movies via iTunes instead of going to the rental shop.
    Kevin, I completely agree about the distractions thing. I love movies but when I watch something in doors I cannot help but do three other things at the same time. The cinema is the ONLY place where I can sit back, relax and give myself 100% to a film.

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