Why Hollywood is losing its grip on my generation

I can count the number of times I’ve been to the cinema during my adult life on one hand. I couldn’t pass up a peak at Avatar and all its promised 3D 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 USA has been dropping over the last few years. Even prior to the global financial melt-down, cinema attendance in both the US and UK was struggling.

This trend is not new; in the 1950s cinema attendance fell sharply in the USA and UK as the number of home television sets in circulation increased. Video may not have killed the movie theatre, but with each new advancement 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 in recent times. But the industry continues to cling to a business model that is looking increasingly outdated as the way we access entertainment media changes.

In recent times, movie studios have pinned their hopes on 3D to entice the next generation back into the cinema. It worked for me, once, but I haven’t been back since. While some 3D films have been hugely successful due to the novelty factor, the 3D 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 reruns of The Simpsons.

These days I take much of my viewing wrapped up in 44 minute, easily digestible packages. The 44 minute format is still the most common because when shows are publically broadcast with advertisements it fills up an hour slot.

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 roll-out of ultra-fast broadband over the next few years should help change that, encouraging more legal download and streaming services to set up locally.

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 anymore 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 in my life. 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 chose 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 was properly granted, I imagine I would spend a lot more on digital entertainment than I do currently. It’s your move Hollywood.

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