Monday, January 23, 2006


More Choice Means Less Choice, According to Movie Industry Representative

I'll do my best to try to track down the citation, but I wanted to pass along what I thought was a really funny statement as soon as possible.

I was watching CNN yesterday when an article about the upcoming movie Bubbles aired. This movie is being released simultaneously on DVD as well as in movie theaters. Some movie theaters in some states have refused to show it since it's available elsewhere and they don't have a monopoly anymore. The controversy has "bubbled" up to the level of national news, "popping" onto the scene just as the number of articles about declining movie ticket sales have started to "effervese".

Anyway, when a representative of the theaters was interviewed, he made a statement that to the best of my recollection went something like this:

"People think that this [simultaneous release in theater as well as dvd] gives them more choice. We disagree!"

Yes, it's true. This man said that More choice means less choice.

I rewound it (thanks to Tivo, another invention that's giving TV executives fits) and watched it four or five times. Such an earnest expression, such serious words!

Some pigs are more equal than others, you see. More choice means less choice.

It created quite a bit of levity here at the household, and it started me thinking yet again about how much of a golden age it truly is. DvDs, podcasts, satellite radio, google Scholar searches, audio books, etc.

As Doug rightly pointed out, when the status quo is threatened, media institutions often fall back on the platitude of how they're really doing it as a public service, and emphasize how nice it is to have "free" radio. I'm referring to the national campaign by FM radio stations to highlight how Vital they are to the American Experience by running ads (yes, even MORE advertisements on FM radio) that pronounce "free" FM radio as the backbone of society and hint that our National Security is at stake.

Yes, all you podcatchers out there, you're one step away from being linked to terrorists. How dare you stop listening to advertisements and flaccid music!

The fact is that "free" radio is hardly free, is hardly accessible, is of inferior quality, and there is much much better audio available with little investment. The broadcast spectrum is auctioned off to the highest bidder, with true public interest hardly a footnote to the allocation. Same thing with TV. It's even more egregious with movie production and distribution, which doesn't even have a thin veneer of public interest at heart. It's all about making money from entertainment.

So, instead of addressing the movie quality problem (which the National Association of Theater Owners does address, to their credit. Notice their acronyn is NATO. Isn't that cool?) as the root cause of declining ticket sales, the movie shill on the cnn broadcast simply blamed the cardboard villain of piracy, and invoked the "people NEED to go out to see movies, it's unAmerican to want it your way!" platitudes of a threatened industry.

We saw this before with the decline of travel agents. We'll continue to see it with the decline of other information hoarding-based jobs. We will see continued declines in ticket sales for two reasons.

1) the movies suck. 70% of movies released in 2006 will be sequels or remakes. Nothing original means a growing fraction of people will stay home.

2) theater owners overbuilt in the 90s and have yet to correct the market. Close down some of the glut of screens, and your ticket sales will stabilize.

People want what they want when they want it. You can't go back again after Tivo, DvDs, simultaneous releases, on-demand movies, on-demand audio, and advertisement-free services.

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