By David Poland email@example.com
3D Rubber To Meet $ Road?
I own 5 different kinds of 3D glasses. But I have never taken glasses to a 3D screening because I have no idea what 3D format it will be in. I’ve seen movies in multiple 3D formats in the same multiplexes, so I can’t even target a specific multiplex with a specific format.
So the idea of being required to bring 3D glasses with me to the movies, even though I don’t have to pay for them, seems absurd on the face of it.
And even though there are programs to have ticket buyers pay for their own glasses in some other countries, I’m pretty sure that the studios know that adding another cost to the 3D experience is likely to send more and more people to 2D screens to see even visual event movies like The Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black III.
Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, told The Hollywood Reporter, basically, that they expect the exhibitors to start footing the bill for the glasses. And in that regard, I have to say, this is pretty much a slam dunk of an argument for the side of the exhibitors.
(Note that Sony was PISSED when the Home Premiere story was leaked during CinemaCon last April. They want to keep these kinds of negotiations private, as a rule. I don’t think Sony was the source for the Hollywood Reporter break of this story. They have put Bruer on the record, the heat focusing on him… but don’t think it made them happy to do so.)
This is a lot like the “Home Premiere” short-window, premium-priced program that launched and died earlier this year… but unlike that fight, it could be argued as to whether the offering would drive customers to skip the theatrical experience. In this case, there’s no mystery involved.
3D was pushed out by the studios with an eye to raising ticket prices and profits. Exhibitors were willing participants, also benefiting from the 3D bump. But the studios, not the exhibitors, control the flow of 3D content and they overdid it dramatically. As a result, there has been consumer pushback against 3D in all but a specific range of movies. Real questions of whether 3D is now scaring audiences away from some titles are swirling around the industry.
So what do the studios do? Well, starting with Sony, they decide to try to leverage the biggest 3D titles… one which seem likely to be popular in 3D with ticket buyers… to squeeze the exhibitors in a new way. Remember, for all the anti-3D sentiment in the media lately, 6 of the top 7 summer movies in North America were in 3D.
Interestingly, Disney, which will be first out of the summer box with The Avengers, isn’t the front studio for this… much as they sat out the Home Premiere debacle. It may be a corporate position or it may be because they are unclear about whether Avengers will be in 3D, as early reports that the film would be shot in 3D were refuted by Mark “Hulk” Ruffalo at ComicCon.
Regardless, the first certain big summer title in 3D will be Men in Black III (it seems that Universal has decided not to convert Battleship to 3D), so that’s the target. Exhibitors want lots of bodies buying pricey popcorn and soda over Memorial Day weekend.
After that, it’s Par/DWA (Madagascar 3), Disney/Pixar (Brave), WB (Jack The Giant Killer), Fox (Prometheus… and later, Ice Age 4), Sony again (Spidey) and another Disney (Step Up 4). Universal is the only major going without 3D (unless they convert Battleship) next summer. Sony Will Smith & Spider-Man… the only other studio with as big a 1-2 3D punch next summer is Fox, with the Ridley Scott psuedo-Alien prequel thingy and the fourth Ice Age.
The big question is whether Sony will threaten exhibitors with pulling their two big titles from theaters that refuse to either take on the costs of the glasses or to push them on to consumers. A very dangerous game of chicken. And indeed, if the half-dozen exhibitors that Sony and everyone else needs to have to launch a mega-movie hold the line, this will not happen. And if they give in, the smaller distributors will be bulldozered over in this conversation.
Ironically, the AMPTP position on all of the deals they make in their favor with unions has been that those deals cannot be revisited in future negotiations. These companies see no such problem when they are trying to improve their margins.
But the biggest problem for all of these players is little talked about and a standard screw-up. The format battles do not make all this a flexible situation. Exhibitors made 3D choices early in the format’s revival and the best format choices now available are not the most widely used. The “winner” is not the public or the films, but the best salesmen a couple of years ago.
The urge to save money on 3D on the exhibition level could reopen the whole field. And I would be happy to see that. MPAA & NATO need to get serious about having a private conversation about consumer preferences in 3D. Which systems do people prefer? Which ones might actually discourage future 3D ticket buys? Does wash-n-reuse work for both sides? Etc, etc, etc.
This discussion should be the basis for a real examination of improving the 3D experience in any way they can, to their own benefit. Unfortunately, it feels as though we have already seen it deteriorate into one side trying to screw the other side, in reality or just perception, already.