Post #19 – Reinventing movies – the theaters need to step up to the $50 ticket, among other things.

Motion pictures are at the top of the food chain. They cost more, attract the biggest stars, have the broadest global market – and are about the riskiest investment in entertainment media you can make.

So it’s important to our entertainment ecology that movies get reinvented in a way that produces more good movies, at all levels of cost. It’s unfortunate that the major movie theater chains have become a roadblock in this process.

While the theaters have a perfect right to protect their businesses, they have not held up their end of the bargain in terms of innovation. By and large the movie-going experience is the same today as it was 50 years ago. Not enough parking. Fighting for seating at popular movies. Waiting forever for popcorn and overpriced soda.

While 3D and video projection has been creeping into theaters, those are largely studio driven innovations. However, recently Paramount worked with a few test theaters to offer a $50 ticket to see Brad Pitt’s World War Z two days early. In addition to the early screening, the fans got to bring some friends at regular prices and will get a Blue Ray DVD of the movie when it comes out. This is a step in the right direction.

Every other entertainment ticket guarantees you fixed seating, at differential prices. If the movies really are a social entertainment event, why not allow everyone to sit together where they want, as long as they’re wiling to pay for better seats? Works in sports and Broadway.

Why not have valet parking? How about streamlining the concession process, as one theater I went to in Evanston, Illinois did quite successfully?

The fact is, movie theaters are costing the studios millions in extra expenses and lost income. How? By delaying the release of movies into the wired world for 90 days, they greatly increase the cost of advertising those movies, which needs to be done twice at least. And undoubtedly many people who would pay premium prices to get movies at home while they’re still in the theaters, never get around to it later. The delayed post-theater release also encourages piracy.

It’s inevitable that the studios will chip away at the theaters’ window of exclusivity. The only question is, will the theaters step up and improve the experience and economics of going to the movies enough to offset any real or imagined losses to day-and-date online distribution?

Post #18 – Pandora buys a radio station. Now the fun begins.

Pandora has announced it’s buying KXMZ-FM in Rapid City, South Dakota. Their reasons are primarily to do with music licensing as explained by Pandora General Counsel Christopher Harrison (link to story). But the end of the article is the part that’s most interesting to me: “Pandora excels in personalizing discovery and terrestrial radio is experienced in integrating with a local community. We look forward to broadcasting our personalized experience to the community in Rapid City, an area where over 42,000 residents already use Pandora.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I think the integration of Pandora (and maybe the coming Apple Radio or Spotify), with local radio personalities, news and information is the future of radio. Added to that will be smartphone, mapping and in-car integration to give listeners a complete experience that’s geo-aware and inherently social.

Sound like a lot? It’s all well within the reach of current technology and programming. Here in Boston, it could offer Matty in the Morning on KIIS-FM with whatever music you like and commercials targeted for the individual listener. Information like weather and news would be on-demand and traffic could be geo-aware so you’re only alerted to situations that relate to where you are driving.

It does require listening over an Internet stream, but that obviously hasn’t been an impediment to Pandora’s 70 million users. Car makers are falling over themselves to put wifi cellular Internet into their newest models. Mobile carriers are equally excited by an extra cell device in every car. You can see the benefits of connecting mobile users if you drive with Waze (which might get bought by Google if Apple or Yahoo! don’t wake up).

Waze tracks the speed and location of its users to produce increasingly accurate traffic condition reports. It also allows them to input things like accidents, construction and speed traps, which instantly show up on everyone else’s maps.

Connecting cars like this will raise the hackles of privacy advocates, but the flip side is the possibility of tremendous benefits in traffic management. How many times have you sat at a traffic light that wasn’t smart enough to know the no cars were coming the other way? Collectively, millions of times a day.

Pandora is also important because it does a really good job of exposing listeners to new artists and music, based on their existing favorites. This is not something radio does a good job at and hasn’t for decades.

All in all, the reinvention of radio will be good for everybody except those stations which don’t do it.

Post #17 – If you think on-screen promos are the work of the devil, raise your hand.

Ad-supported TV has a death wish. It wasn’t enough to overload programming with an unwatchable number of commercials. Now they are ruining good dramatic programs and movies with pop up animated graphics promoting other shows.

What moron decided that this was acceptable? What other morons decided the first moron was right? There seems to be nothing stupid that these people won’t do to convince us that the only TV worth watching is on HBO, Showtime, Starz and the other pay channels. Oh, and maybe PBS.

Now that consumers are skipping commercials, as well as promos, with their DVRs – and for good reason – programmers are desperate to put largely irrelevant promos right over dramatic programming. No thought is even given to where in the program it appears, not that there really is anywhere it should be.

Would they allow this in France? Where is the collective outrage from the creative community? Does J.J. Abrams like the fact that NBC is ruining Revolution with constant on-screen crap?

Viewers obviously have very little say in this or any other matters. They just keep voting with their channel changers, with more abandoning network TV every year. Three years ago AdAge quoted Adam Stotsky, president-marketing, NBC Entertainment as saying that consumers have developed a “capacity to accept multiple messaging all at once”. What a joke.

It’s one thing to scroll repetitive and often stupid news headlines across the bottom of a news program. It’s quite another to have sitcom characters marching along the bottom of a poignant dramatic scene.

It’s truly amazing to see a medium driving a nail into its own coffin.

Post #16 – Why would anyone buy Hulu? Why would the networks sell it?

What in the world are these companies thinking? Why would anyone try to buy a company with no real assets of its own? Why would anyone sell a distribution scheme that’s almost as good as owning a cable system?

Hulu is not worth much without a continuing stream of first run network programming. Period. They’ve done a nice job with the interface but so what? It’s an interface. Unless you’re prepared to spend hundreds of millions in program development or licensing fees, forget it. And even then it’s not a slam dunk without all the promotion the networks give shows and their habitual (if declining) viewership.

It’s impossible to believe that the networks will guarantee that the same programming will be available to Hulu and at a reasonable price in the future. Bidding will push it up – Netflix, Apple, Xbox, who knows? Or the networks could go back to streaming shows on their own sites (not a good choice).

This is a case of wishful thinking at best.

The networks don’t play well together but tough – they need a joint distribution platform like Hulu, which is why they created it in the first place. Viewers prefer to go to one location to see their network shows, just like they do with cable. Hulu fights piracy and decreases losses to fragmentation, if the networks wise up and begin selling ad inventory on Hulu themselves. The need to start using Hulu more intelligently, not fight over it or reap unwise short-term profits.

Walk away everybody.

PS – I guess I’m not the only one who feels this way. I think $2 billion in additional cost is optimistic.
Why would anyone want to own Hulu – The