Jeffrey Katzenberg may be exiting the traditional movie business after 40 years, but the exec still has something to say about what’s to come for the film industry. During an executive roundtable on the future of cinema at CineEurope today, he said, “I don’t think there has been a time with a greater opportunity for innovation to take a legacy business and be able to transform it.”
Katzenberg was addressing an audience made up largely of European exhibitors at the Barcelona conference that is Europe’s answer to CinemaCon. The region’s theater operators have on their minds such issues as how to combat the multiple screen offerings outside traditional moviehouses, their relationships with the Hollywood studios and the impact that data analytics can have on the whole.
Since a deal was struck to sell DreamWorks Animation to Comcast for $3.8B earlier this year, Katzenberg has been on something of a farewell tour, including his final stop at the Cannes Film Festival as DWA chief last month.
The exec did not stop short today of 3D, an issue he notoriously has championed. Speaking to the audience, he lamented: “We blew it. … It was a game-changing opportunity for the industry.” Katzenberg spoke of the “excitement” surrounding such films as Avatar and Life of Pi and said: “When we gave them an exceptional film that was artistic and creative and celebrated, people were happy. … Then others came along and took the low road and gimmickized it. Instantly we lost good will.”
He’s hopeful Avatar 2 makes up some ground to regain that good will.
He also pointed today to a transformation in professional sports as a potential mirror to the industry. “In the last 20 years in the U.S., major sports arenas have been rebuilt or new ones have replaced old ones.” There has been “an elevation of the consumer experience” from access and parking options to food and interactivity. The analogy for the film biz: “Sports have shown what can happen. Attendance at live events is through the roof. It’s a premium experience even if it’s interactive on more devices.”
He was joined on the panel by Odeon Cinemas CEO Paul Donovan, who noted a recent study that concluded there is a latent demand for cinemagoing in major European markets, with respondents saying they would be inclined to head to theaters 25%-40% more often. “They want to see movies” despite the challenge of other media options. He suggested there needs to be a reset on both sides of the exhibition and distribution business. “Distributors take a film-by-film view; exhibitors take a guest-by-guest view. … Both sides have to recognize the size of the prize.”
Carmike Cinemas CEO David Passman noted: “We all have kitchens, yet we still go out to eat. That is the wonder of cinemagoing.”
Expanding, Katzenberg said: “Most people have a common behavior whether they go to two movies a year or one a week. A relationship exists between the exhibitor and the customer. But there has been zero real effort to capture that relationship in the most valuable way.”
Studios, he said, “spend as much money marketing movies as they do making them … it’s absurd. Each movie, every time you start from scratch, they advertise to one billion people to capture 100 million. It’s incredibly inefficient. There is an opportunity to engage in better partnerships with exhibitors” who have the ability to create a relationship to allow the marketing side to be better.
But he wasn’t faulting one or the other. “There is a billion dollars of efficiency to be captured and it should be shared from both sides,” which would create money savings for the studios and an added value on the exhibition side.
Citing what many in the room consider the competition, Katzenberg said: “Netflix does this all day long, recommending content based on what a customer likes. For us not to create the same user interface seems a big miss.”
He turned to this weekend’s mega-opener Finding Dory. “The strongest part of the business is the family business. Look at Finding Dory. … To not be in the service of the same audience for The Secret Life of Pets and Ice Age … it’s a bull’s-eye. There needs to be a reset in the relationship of exhibitors and distributor/producers.” Sharing data could be the way forward.
The sentiment in the room was that the industry should not be waiting for a new discovery. The focus now needs to be on “how to make leaving home and going to the cinema an experience,” said Katzenberg. The way forward? Large format.
Recent experience “tells us bigger is better. Large format is moving people,” he said. There has been “great progress,” which has shown that audiences will pay. “It’s not a gimmick.” And it’s not reserved for tentpoles. “Big screen envelops us. It doesn’t matter if it’s an intimate drama or an action film. It’s compelling and exciting. The people have spoken.”
Overall, “it was unfortunate; it was the content creators who blew it,” he said. “Exhibitors made the investments (to adapt cinemas) and Hollywood dropped the ball.”
Turning back to the sports analogy, Katzenberg reminded European attendees that Yankee games used to be blacked out in New York, “to deny 8 million people” from seeing the games in favor of getting 45,000 into the Bronx stadium.
“The customer has spoken. We’re not in search of an answer — it’s here,” he said.
Katzenberg added that he was “optimistic about moviegoing. I don’t buy that kids aren’t excited about going to a movie.”