Monday, January 16, 2006

The shared, social experience on my couch

There is of course no scientific evidence that the last generation of dinosaurs examined their changing landscape, shrugged casually and remarked to each other, "Nothing can replace a 3-story-tall beast." But it has been recorded that a famous director told CES audiences: "'Nothing is going to replace the shared, social experience of going to a movie theater.'"

So touching. So sharing-is-caring. And it's the only defense for movie theaters anyone can think of: "'There's always going to be the need for the shared movie experience,' said [Entertainment Weekly writer Dade] Hayes."

Is it even right?

For answers, we must turn to American Pie: Band Camp. Direct-to-DVD movies make money because "'how people watch movies is shifting dramatically,'" said Kevin Kasha, senior vice president of New Line Home Entertainment. 'The living room is the new drive-in.' Which means that the onus is on studios to bring entertainment into the home rather than on audiences to go out and find it."

And this month, the new Soderbergh movie will air on HDNet the same night it debuts in theaters and will be sold on DVD that same week. But read the fine print. Soderbergh's distribution team, which includes Mark Cuban, is setting "aside 1 percent of DVD revenues for this and future similar releases, divvying it up between theater owners who agree to distribute their films."

Are they bribing movie houses? Hedging their bets? Or giving us the one profit model that makes sense these days? The only thing keeping movie houses alive now is the distribution window -- protectionism -- and not mankind's inherent need to gather with others and overpay for popcorn. Soderbergh's movie deal is important because for the first time, consumer choice is a factor. It's an approach that means wherever we enjoy watching a movie, it'll be there and when we watch it, everyone in the foodchain profits. Soderbergh's team realizes the "shared, social experience" is not confined to any one place and even extends to what comes after, when everyone goes to their phone, blog, office or Hookah bar to talk about the movie they just saw.

Really: it's exciting. It's fun. So why can't our society's most creative, most innovative people see that? Hmm. Maybe nothing will replace self-delusion.

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