By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
The Slump Scam: 2011 Edition
Explaining reality to people who have made up their mind to believe an outrageous falsehood is hard to do. They really don’t want to hear it. Once committed to the falsehood, everything is seen through the twisted prism of that misunderstanding. And if the internet mindset has proven anything, it’s that people can twist any statistic into a “realistic” argument.
The single biggest problem with the lie of The Slump, same today as it was in 2005 and in every alleged min-slump since, is that you have to avoid the facts to maintain the fallacy. And not just one occurrence of an exception to the rule. But, this year, you have to avoid the numbers from a full half of the year. Of course – shockedshocked – those who want to maintain the fallacy keep piling on excuses to make their case.
Understanding a business model for an industry can, at times, just be about counting widgets. But the filmed entertainment business is not a widget count. You start with seven significant revenue streams, only one of which is well-reported upon, in the first year of the life of each film. (Domestic Theatrical, Foreign Theatrical, DVD Sell-Thru, DVD Rental, Streaming, Pay-TV, International TV) And this doesn’t include VOD, International DVD, etc, etc, etc. And this is just the first year of top revenue streams.
The fear of Home Entertainment, starting with the VHS, was that it would cannibalize the theatrical business. And indeed, it has. And DVD after it. It had to. And so has cable television. And the internet. And video games. Etc, etc, etc.
And still, the overall market has grown massively. The cannibalization has been relatively minor issue because the industry has monetized most of the anticipated cannibalization. So they get paid by cable/satellite, paid for DVDs, paid for streaming, paid for licensed video games, invested in both international production as well as infrastructure. Even with piracy, the European and Asian markets have seen more and more screens being built and higher and higher grosses.
But all those pieces of the revenue puzzle… hard to report on these days. Most figures aside from box office grosses are not made public. There are glimpses offered, now and again, usually in some self-serving way like a new record for sales or ratings or a big dollar deal with Netflix or whomever. But it’s not a weekly game where details can be pushed around like baseball stats.
So what do we get at the end of the year? Narrow slices of reality which are then obfuscated by big slices of excrement pie.
It’s a bit too easy, on either side of this discussion, to throw out stats. That’s how we got into this bastardization of journalism. Statistics and scoundrels, right? Instead of “yeah, but”ing each other to death, I’d love people to consider, as they discuss the macro view of the industry, some basic questions.
If April – September 2011 domestic grosses were up (and ticket sales were flat or a little up) vs last year… and before that January – March saw a massive fall off from last year… do we think that there was some sort of significant cultural shift on April 1? And if Q4 (Oct-Dec) was off marginally, was there another shift on October 1?
When you read about an ongoing slump, have you considered that if you only counted April on, the year would be up at the box office, including some remarkable numbers in both August and September? And if you haven’t, does it still sound like an industry-shaking situation?
Would it surprise you, amidst all this slump talk, that 2 of the 6 majors were up for this year, and third will end up about even?
Would it surprise you that WB is likely to end up being down for the year by a bit over $100m or about the holdover in 2010 of 2009’s Sherlock Holmes?
Would it surprise you that, in spite of not having an Alice In Wonderland kind of film in Q1, the difference between this year’s total gross at Disney and last year’s will be about the difference in domestic gross between Toy Story 2 and Cars 2? (Is this The Pixar Slump?)
Would it surprise you that the difference between 2010 and 2011 at Fox… and ultimately, the entire domestic theatrical box office… is almost completely made up of the $466m Avatar holdover gross?
It’s only when you fail to ask any detailed questions that it becomes easy to talk about “a slump” and to then start diagnosing reasons on the presumption that the patient is actually quite ill. (Hysterically, the same false reasons laid out in 2005 and being laid out again this week by a profoundly undereducated media group covering the film beat. That darn internet! Piracy. Streaming. And oh, those video games!)
Are there real problems with exhibition in the US? Absolutely. Do the studios continue to take actions that seem intended to create bigger problems with exhibition in the US? Absolutely. Is there reason to think that people have gotten out of the habit of thinking about movies as a theatrical experience beyond their first 4 – 6 weeks of release? Absolutely. And is the fault for that the structure of business and intention to speed up the process by the studios? Absolutely.
But is there ANY reason to believe that people are sick of going to the movies and this is an ongoing problem on a cultural level? None at all.
There are flops in 2011, as in any year. But there have also been a parade of great box office surprises. From Fast Five to Bridesmaids to The Help to Horrible Bosses to Bad Teacher to the 3d re-release of The Lion King, who would have seen any of it coming?
It’s also fashionable to write off 3D right now… and there are some good reasons for that. But you also have to look at the fact that 6 of the year’s top 10 domestic grossers were available in 3D. You have to recognize that both Thor and Captain America did about what the non-Iron Man Marvel-made movies have done… plus the 3D bump, making that bump pretty profitable. And of course, overseas, 3D is still on the rise.
This doesn’t mean that the 3D train won’t crash in the rest of the world next year and that it will become, as it should be in my opinion, a tool for certain movies that is not ubiquitous, but a special thing for certain filmmakers. (I am excited to see Prometheus in both 3D and 2D.)
But all of these issues have been simplified to death by a media that doesn’t seem to want to do anything but to answer their questions with their own predetermined answers.
I’d love to have a major paper or NRG or someone do a serious trend study on filmgoing. But instead, we hear from this distributor or that producer about how bad things are while their movies are flopping and forget to ask, “Where was The Slump when you had a surprise hit 6 months ago?” It seems pretty basic, no?