Congress Needs SOPA Like Mars Needs Moms
Congress Needs SOPA Like Mars Needs Moms
Congress Needs SOPA Like Mars Needs Moms

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    In the next couple of weeks, Congress will come back to
    Washington to start debating, once again, legislation that would severely limit
    innovation online, limit free speech and weaken cybersecurity, all in the name
    of protecting the big content companies. Yes, those are the dreaded Stop Online
    Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in
    the Senate.  These are bills that have
    companies large and small, venture capitalists, respected Internet engineers,
    human-rights activists and many others up in arms over a irresponsible
    overreach on behalf of one industry.

    It’s almost certain that in the course of the debate,
    Senators and Representatives will get up in their respective chambers and/or
    meeting rooms and bemoan the current state of the movie industry and argue that
    “pirates” are responsible for the sad state of the movie business.

    Nonsense.  Congress needs these bills as much as Mars
    Needs Moms.  How do we know this?  Entertainment Weekly’s The Bullseye summarized
    2011 in movies pretty succinctly in its Jan. 13 issue:  “Movie-theatre attendance plunges to lowest level
    in 16 years.  ‘What did I ever do to
    deserve Mars Needs Moms?’ sighs 2011 on its deathbed.”  For the record, Disney’s MNM, which led The
    Hollywood Reporter’s list of box office flops for the year, cost $150 million
    to make and grossed $39 million at the box office – worldwide.

    Attendance was down to
    about 1.28 billion tickets sold, the lowest figure since 1995.  So was the box office – down about 4 percent
    for 2011 from 2010, selling about $10.2 billion worth of tickets.  Surely pirates must be responsible for this keelhauling
    of our film industry?  Surely?

    Surely not.  If the movie biz wants to continue a
    destructive campaign of some sort, it should start by looking in the mirror,
    and then at the movie theatres and then at the other activities that also
    compete for the time, attention and money of moviegoers.

    It wasn’t only the popular press that noticed the
    lackluster slate of movies in 2011.  Influential
    industry analyst Eric Wold of B. Riley noted the obvious in a Jan. 3, 2012
    report, “Rationalizing
    Recent Box Office Doldrums – and Potential for a Reversal in 2012”:  “Unfortunately the movie industry has always been a
    hindsight industry for the most part. While individual movies as well as an
    entire year’s movie slate could look impressive ahead of time and be expected
    to generate strong box office results, studios and exhibitors are always at the
    mercy of the consumer (which can sometimes be extremely fickle… especially in
    times of social media and the easy transmission of reviews in real time).”

    the widely quoted report, Wold summed up 2011 by saying:  “In our opinion, the reason
    for the disappointing domestic box office all comes down to one thing: consumer
    demand for the movie slate (in hindsight, of course). While there were a
    handful of ‘sleeper hit’ movies that did outperform initial expectations (e.g.,
    The Help, Bridesmaids and The Smurfs), there were a lot more
    movies that disappointed compared to initial expectations.”  Or as The Wrap put it less delicately, “more
    consumers would have gone to the movies last year if Hollywood hadn’t released
    so many dogs.”

    At mid-year, The Wrap
    quoted one key analyst, Vincent Bruzzese, president of the Worldwide Motion
    Picture Group:  “For moviegoers this
    age, it’s not the ticket prices, it’s not streaming or piracy, it’s that there
    was nothing they wanted to see. Studies show that low on the list of reasons
    people don’t go to the movies are alternative forms of entertainment.” 
    Or, as he put it more bluntly, “It’s the product, stupid.”

    The seven top-grossing
    movies of 2011 were sequels; the 8th and 10th were based
    on comic books.  Only one movie in the
    top 15 came from an original concept: 
    Bridesmaids.  Industry figures
    show the sequels were down 16 percent from their predecessors.  In past years, the decline has either been
    less, or as in 2009, sequels outperformed their original.

    Beyond the dubious
    quality of the movies, the only thing on which the industry observers and analysts
    agree is that there are lots of reasons for the industry finances to fluctuate
    as they do.  One factor typically cited:
    ticket prices are too high, fueled by a 3-D craze which drives up production
    costs but doesn’t pay out in a better film. 
    Hall-of-Fame movie critic Roger Ebert, in his evaluation of the year’s
    results, said simply, “Ticket prices are too high. People have always made that
    complaint, but historically the movies have been cheap compared to concerts,
    major league sports and restaurants. Not so much any longer. No matter what
    your opinion is about 3D, the charm of paying a hefty surcharge has worn off
    for the hypothetical family of four.” 
    (He also agrees that the “absence of a muse-see mass-market movie”

    Wold disagrees.  If ticket prices were the cause, then all the
    results would have been dragged down. Instead, box office records were set this summer in the 2nd
    and 3rd quarters.  He
    noted:  “With the box office
    only declining during two of the four quarters, we believe this would indicate
    more period-specific issues (i.e., the movie slate) as opposed to consumers
    cutting back on movie-going attendance throughout the year.”

    trends are another factor.  MPAA data
    found that males and females in the age 12-24 age group aren’t going to the
    movies as much.  They bought 32 percent
    of the tickets in 2010; that same group bought 60 percent in 1975.   The Wrap quoted a “studio marketing chief” as
    saying, “We
    have failed to make going to the movies an emotional experience for them,
    meaning something that they invest in and get pleasure from. I think they care
    about content, but they don’t care so much about the delivery of it.”  The marketer added:  “Middle-age people can chart the
    emotional beats of their lives through going to the movies. I do not think kids
    under 25 have that same kind of emotional connection with movie theaters.”

    Social media can play a
    role in the drop of interest by that age group, as reviews are spread more
    quickly through more people, so that the target audience knows sooner what are
    the hot trends, what’s in and, as importantly, what’s not. 

    That’s when the
    competition from technology and other pastimes comes into play.  Potential moviegoers can decide to wait until
    a film is available on DVD or on streaming, or simply to do something
    else.  Ebert noted that Netflix accounts
    for 30 percent of Internet traffic in the evening:  “That represents millions of moviegoers.”  The rise of On-Demand availability also plays
    a role, as some films are released that way before they hit the big screens,
    and some after.  As Entertainment Weekly
    noted,  “with tablets selling like wildfire and
    people becoming accustomed to watching entertainment whenever-however they
    please, On-Demand seems like a format the industry will have to confront in a
    very real way soon — even if it, as feared, it may continue to chip away at
    theatrical attendance. After all, on-demand is in-demand.”  Then there are “new digital diversions like
    video games and Facebook,” the Los Angeles Times observed.

    What else?  The theatre experience isn’t what it used to
    be, as studio executives blamed “poorly maintained theatres,” and Ebert said
    older theatre-goers (over 30) “are weary of noisy fanboys and girls.”  He also says that refreshment prices are too
    high and that there isn’t enough choice in films with too few independent,
    foreign or documentary films available.

    And in reaction to all
    of these trends, the studios are fighting back, not by offering new or
    innovative films, or lower prices, but by making things inconvenient for film
    fans.  Warner Brothers just announced it
    would delay the rental of new DVDs, to lengthen the sale period from 28 days
    before rental to 56.  Netflix agreed, Red
    Box didn’t.  The movie biz wants to
    protect another shrinking income stream, DVD sales.  Meanwhile, HBO will no longer sell DVDs to
    Netflix at wholesale prices.

    The “pirates” at whom
    all this legislation to disappear Web sites from the Internet and weaken the
    security of the Net’s virtual phone directory also have a role in this
    equation, but not the one the studios see. 
    Ispos MediaCT, a market research firm, found in 2009 that the people who
    the industry sees as pirates (whether for music or video) can be seen in
    another light:  as fans. 

    Their study found that,
    “Again on a monthly basis,
    those using unofficial sites are more likely than average to also use official
    sites (90% vs. 53%), pay to stream or download (82% vs. 55%) or buy DVDs in a
    store (67% vs. 44%).”  Ispos recommended
    that “the industry needs to find ways to meet the needs of the valuable

    “Studios and theater chains can cling to the hope that the coming year’s sequels, reboots and book adaptations will be bigger hits than last year’s, but the trend lines spell trouble for the status quo,” the L.A. Times said.

     Now the latest from Hollywood:  MGM/Screen Gems is going to remake “Carrie,”
    Brian DePalma’s classic 1976 horror flick which starred Sissy Spacek as the
    tortured girl with telekinetic powers.