Opinion & Analysis
OPINION: I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to the cinema during my adult life.
I couldn't pass up a peek at Avatar and all its promised 3-D glory. Then there have been a couple of times when I've been given or won tickets.
But it's not often I feel the urge to pay top-dollar to have kids kick the back of my seat, people eat loudly beside me, and teenagers talk right through the movie.
And it seems I'm not alone in my views. Movie attendance in the United States has been dropping over the past few years. Even before the global financial meltdown, cinema attendance in both the US and Britain was struggling.
This trend is not new. In the 1950s cinema attendance fell sharply in the US and Britain as the number of home television sets in circulation increased. Video may not have killed the movie theatre, but with each new advance in home media comes new challenges to the traditional cinema scene.
The movie industry likes to blame illegal downloading for weak cinema attendance and falling DVD sales. But the industry continues to cling to an outdated business model.
In recent times, movie studios have pinned their hopes on 3-D to entice the next generation back into the cinema. It worked for me, once, but I haven't been back since. Though some 3-D films have been hugely successful due to the novelty factor, the 3-D format still has its share of sceptics.
The younger generations that traditionally filled opening weekend cinema seats now have much more choice in entertainment. Instead of stumping up $20 a pop at the local cinema, we can challenge our mates to online games, surf the net, or access a range of media content on demand.
The humble television series is also starting to give the blockbuster movie a run for its money. Gone are the days when sitting down to an evening of television meant choosing between Coronation Street and re-runs of The Simpsons.
These days I take much of my viewing wrapped up in 44-minute, easily digestible packages. (They are sized to fill an hour when adverts are added.)
To access much of this content, New Zealanders often have to look a bit harder than the US viewer. Often this means going through channels of, well, let's say questionable legality.
The promised rollout of ultrafast broadband over the next few years should help change that, encouraging more local legal download and streaming services.
Hollywood is slowly realising that the horse has bolted in terms of the changing way we access media. The pressure to make more content available online and earlier will continue to grow.
It's not just serial downloaders who watch without ads. If you have the money you can easily buy an intuitive hard disk recorder for Freeview or subscribe to a service like MySky. If you don't have the money but do have a bit of know-how, you can turn an old computer into a Linux or Windows-based media server.
The fact that today's viewers simply don't watch ads any more is forcing television networks to move towards on-demand or subscription-based services. But movie studios continue to hold out even as their other big revenue source, DVD sales, is also in decline.
I can't recall ever buying a DVD. All-you-can-eat services, which post or stream movies to you for a set fee, can largely replace a home DVD collection.
You may brag that you own the entire Star Wars collection. But in the near future if I wanted to watch The Empire Strikes Back I would expect to just fire up my internet-connected TV and stream it as part of a service I had already paid for.
I don't know how movie studios will choose to distribute their content in years to come. Those of us who don't enjoy the cinema might just have to resign ourselves to waiting longer to see the latest blockbuster, or downloading low-quality cam versions and risking the wrath of Skynet.
Consumers want to access content in the place and time of their choosing. If this wish were properly granted, I imagine I would spend a lot more on digital entertainment than I do now. It's your move, Hollywood.
- Nigel Pinkerton works for Infometrics.
- © Fairfax NZ News