BART: The Deadline Sunday page didn’t hit my virtual doorstep this morning. What happened?
FLEMING: It was my passion but I had to scrap it for now. We are still working on initiatives with our recent redesign, and we had to choose our battles. I don’t regret the experiment; we did some fine journalism and there will be a lot more coming. For now those pieces will run during the week and our challenge is to ensure they don’t drown in the river of our growing weekday volume.
Change of topic: Netflix executed a one-two punch on the jaw of the exhibition business. Harvey Weinstein sold his Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon so-called sequel to Netflix, and will also show it on IMAX screens. Then came the four-pic deal with Adam Sandler and Happy Madison. Game changing or grandstanding?
BART: I think Adam Sandler has done exhibitors a favor. Under his new deal, his next four films will go directly to Netflix, thus giving theater owners a chance to book something intelligible (maybe even intelligent). They won’t have to play Blended II. Sandler explained to The New York Times that he opted for Netflix “because it rhymed with Wet Chicks,” which should forewarn the company what it’s in for. Netflix’s announcement of the Crouching Tiger sequel, to be released simultaneously in theaters, would be a cool business plan except that some major theater chains instantly said they wouldn’t go along with it.
FLEMING: So you see this as a stunt. You might be right–it was no surprise exhibitors turned up noses on Crouching Tiger, which, aside from the reprise of Michelle Yeoh, is a sequel only in that it’s based on the same line of books. There’s no Ang Lee, who created what felt like a completely original and moving award-winning film. Who knows how well this next one would do in theaters? But it’s a branded title and it’s a sign exhibitors can’t hide their heads in the sand. Exhibitors are determined to stay in the Stone Age, and I think it is as much a mistake as when Blackberry refused to change. We all had them, and now nobody does. Blockbuster resisted change, and they are as dead as disco.
It’s smart for Netflix to keep being disruptive, with Ted Sarandos making exhibitors his nemesis. Netflix is in 50 countries, and is already creating series that keep people from having to leave the house to go to theaters. Once studios and exhibitors changed the theatrical to home-video window from nine months to three months, it became inevitable those windows would eventually disappear. Consumers want what they want when they want it.
I argue often with traditional distributors, who tell me the current revenue model of theatrical to pay-TV to home video to Redbox works because of the theatrical window. It seems to me like there is squandering of a P&A spend that is inefficient but would be justifiable if you were selling theater tickets and PPV/DVDs. My question: why don’t the big theater chains become the catalyst for inevitable chance, and consider my iPad or TV one of their screens? I didn’t want to go out Friday, but I would have paid $30 or $40 to watch Gone Girl with my wife. Is it better to wait five months to get my $1.99 out of Redbox? Change is coming, but maybe these initiatives will first have to be road tested overseas with Hollywood and exhibitors working out a fair split on new revenues that could be huge.
Exhibs are right to protect their brick-and-mortar business, their overpriced popcorn and $4 water bottles. But I believe young people will still go to the movies and see Guardians of the Galaxy on a big screen; families will do the same for Frozen, and if they can buy the DVD on the way out, they most certainly will. Consumers want the freedom they are getting from TV, and the older audience segment has the money to pay a premium to watch from home. There is no way this won’t be the norm in ten years.
BART: I think journalists have been devoting too much attention to the whole issue of release windows, Mike, and you are among the culprits. The major distributors want to squeeze every buck out of their tent poles as quickly as possible but I think they should be less obsessed with this sort of premature ejaculation at the box office and more on maintaining the loyalty of those 40 percent of film goers (the grownup sector) who aren’t obsessive about seeing a movie on the first weekend. They actually want to wait to hear what their friends say, or read the real critics, not the self-anointed social-media gurus. Perhaps the exhibitors should ponder offering significant discounts to ticket buyers (those damn grownups, again) who see a movie in its third or fourth week – if they last that long. No, they wouldn’t be Adam Sandler movies. His fans always go on weekend one, before their friends tell them to stay away. Netflix doubtless will figure out a way to keep the news from spreading.
FLEMING: Did Adam Sandler cut you off on the 405? I saw him in a Toronto movie that Thomas McCarthy directed called The Cobbler, and it was the kind of performance you saw from Robin Williams when he was broadening from comedies en route to films like Good Will Hunting and The World According to Garp and Dead Poet’s Society. I won’t give up on Sandler; I have his Best Of tape from Saturday Night Live. He needs to rediscover that guy and stop making these family comedies that feel derivative and stale. He has made some crap, but he can still turn it around. Maybe the Netflix experiment will be a disruptive shot in the arm that will compel him to do something edgy. I will watch those films.
BART: New topic. Will a new movie about the social media fail because its social-media campaign isn’t effective enough? Some distribution types I’ve talked to say that’s what’s happening to Men, Women and Children, Jason Reitman’s new film. Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner star in the film, which basically is about digital malaise. It’s a rather depressing movie about how the lives of its principals are messed up by the Internet. That’s a good theme but the key to the film’s success is its social media campaign and it doesn’t seem to be working. Reitman has even complained he’s been misquoted by online reporters in commenting on “relationship atrocities on the web.” My problem with the film is more basic: It tells me things I already know and don’t want to know still more about.
FLEMING: I have to admit, I use social media grudgingly. I don’t do Twitter; if I wasn’t being paid to write, I would not scribble a grocery list. I still read hardcovers. I prefer to turn the pages of newspapers. I am Fred Flintstone of the Internet and am here because I know print is dying. I am unimpressed with the upcoming crop of aggregating journalists who purport to be the future; that is why all the hires we’ve made are people who worked at real print outlets. I find web journalists to be superficial and too reliant on nuggets they introduce (a lot of them wrong or exaggerated) and they share this information and build on it. Why would I be interested in interpersonal relationships that play out on the web? My biggest struggle is to get away from my computer to have a good conversation with my wife and kids. Only to find they are glued to some kind of device.
BART: All of us have our secret ‘hate lists’ but here’s the common denominator on those lists: Our cable company. That’s why it’s amusing to see Comcast, the biggest of the big, begging for public support. Comcast, of course, wants to buy Time Warner Cable (they’re hated even more) and that would create a mega-monolith. Now Comcast, normally a smooth operator, has lost its cool and is fiercely denouncing those companies that oppose the merger, like Discovery and Netflix, accusing them of treacherous motives. It’s a fascinating argument. Comcast tells us of the glories of ‘scale.’ Opponents talk about the dangers of oligopoly. Most of us lack the sophistication to evaluate whether domination of the country’s broadband would deliver innovation or suffocate it. But we do know this: On an individual level – household to household – these companies have done an absolutely terrible job. That’s why they’re on our hate lists. And that’s also why they’re working so hard to be, well, lovable.
FLEMING: I was a Cablevision customer forever, but just switched to DirectTV for the football package. I always felt cable companies were monopolies that did little but collect escalating fees. But both Cablevision and DirectTV have made it easy to watch on iPads and smartphones; there are so many channels, they’ve proven The Boss wrong.
That Bruce Springsteen song 57 Channels and Nothing On doesn’t ring true because I’ve got like 800 channels, and there’s usually something at least mildly watchable. The DirectTV sales pitch told me I will even be able to watch my TV on my iPad when I go to Los Angeles, including those football games, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to make that work. Monopolies are never good and the Comcast-Time Warner Cable linkup will likely lead to more standoffs with broadcasters, which drives consumers nuts when they have channels blacked out. At least they can now switch back and forth from satellite to cable. But these companies I have direct experience with have at least invested in technology and innovation and as a result, service is good. Though if you told my grandfather we all pay $200 cable bills, he’d spin in his grave.