About two weeks ago, Jeffrey Katzenberg said in the course of an interview he was not particularly impressed with the new high-definition DVDs such as Blu-ray. He did not see much in the way of improvements from the standard format discs. Neither the image nor the sound did much to enhance the experience in the rapidly evolving home entertainment field, in his view.
It was a terse dismissal, not only of the new format, but of an industry that appeared to be flogging expensive new machines that largely ignore the conventional format. Katzenberg stopped short of saying that it was the emperor's new clothes; a cynical and desperate manoeuvre to create a new revenue stream. But the message was not opaque.
Swept under the red carpet
It is unusual for a senior film executive to speak on the record with such critical candour, even for an instance. What is even more unusual is that his industry brethren did not immediately circle the wagons and fire back from cover. There was no rebuttal and though one would like to think that truth prevailed in this instance, the silence had a more ominous nature. In essence, ignoring the broadside ends the debate and allows the industry to continue huckstering HD DVDs until a more viable, improved and exploitable medium evolves.
Motion picture film exhibition was for decades the mighty engine that drove film-makers and movie moguls to make the stuff of dreams. From time to time there were side benefits. Sometimes a musical generated additional revenues from a hit single or soundtrack, and Disney always had a savvy sense of merchandising its screen characters. They were happy exceptions.
Today the myriad supplemental revenues - known in the biz as 'ancillaries' - are the engine, or at least the prevailing profit centre for movies.
The official stance is that the theatrical audience fuels the 'secondary' revenue streams and therefore it remains of paramount importance.
Still, one suspects that if a viable financial construct emerged that bypassed the movie-goer, it would be immediately embraced. Conventional film-going would merely be a loss leader - much in the way hardcover has become in relationship to paperback in publishing.
The salvation so far for the movie experience is a combination of entrenched business practice and the inability of an alternative to stick around long enough to become a threat.
VHS is rapidly becoming the cinematic eight-track and the lustre appears to fading from DVD. All signs are that sales in that medium have flattened.
Imagine that the printing press had just been invented and books could be mass produced and sold economically for the first time. Three years later, you have a library of 100 books and have only read 12. The scenario does not suggest going out and buying more reading material.
Of course the issue could become very complicated if something unexpected were to occur, such as the arrival of better movies. It is the sort of glitch most of us would attempt to wrestle to the ground.
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