A Surprising, Smoking, Blazing! Gun

May 18, 2011

One of the great challenges for my book, and for our community, is the lingering perception that my prediction of the possibility of extinction for new movies as we have known them is overblown and even absurd.

Truth be told, I hear that dismissive comment all the time and, even more truth be told, I am never surprised nor angered to hear it. Movies have been such a huge aspect of our national culture since the Nickelodeon days of a century ago that it’s understandably hard for many people to wrap their heads around the very real danger of extinction that new movies now face.

This is always the way of things when a small group of people challenge the status quo in any endeavor or business. For instance, when my partners and I decided to form The Spiritual Cinema Circle in 2004, most “mainstream” media and film people scoffed at or dismissed it out of hand. Even close friends told us we would never find enough movies in our niche to distribute 4 of them every month and that we wouldn’t even make it through our first year. The result: SCC just started its 8th year, has distributed over 350 films to date, and has subscribers in almost 90 countries worldwide.

This period of disbelief is where we are today with bringing back The Old Hollywood. This time, however, we are most definitely not alone. There are other voices out there who now see the same threat we see, even as The New Hollywood continues to put on a brave public face that masks the real fears that lie underneath.

Once again, I tip my hat to The Wrap for being such a great resource for what is really happening in The New Hollywood. Yesterday (May 17), The Wrap posted an article entitled “Has the Movie Business Finally Caught the Online Virus?” that encapsulates another aspect of the shortsightedness of The New Hollywood’s obsession with young audiences. Here is an excerpt:

“With box office revenue off 13 percent (from 2010) through the weekend, some studio executives are quietly pondering a new paradigm in which their market no longer grows. In fact, there is some concern that the looming specter of new media has suddenly reached a tipping point, similar to the fall 2003 TV season, when the broadcast networks experienced an abrupt and very discernible decline in young-male viewers — a group that has, for the most part, never looked back.

“We had a meeting where we sat down and told everyone to take a deep breath — we might have to accept the fact that our year-over-year numbers might not look right again,” one pessimistic studio executive told TheWrap.

Movie attendance has slumped before, but North American box office is in the midst of a prolonged decline, steadily dropping 23 percent in ticket sales since peaking at an all-time high of 1.57 billion in 2002, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America . (My emphasis added here. 23% in 9 years!)

And a fall-off in movie-going among younger demographics seems to be driving this trend.

For instance, males and females age 12-24 bought 32 percent of the movie tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada in 2010, down from 38 percent in 2005, and from 43 percent in 1990, according to data compiled from the MPAA and the International Motion Picture Almanac. Back in the good old days of 1975, 12-24-year-olds purchased 60 percent of all movie tickets.”

So, the New Hollywood has, to use a poker phrase, “gone all in” on those in Act 1 of life and now even that audience seems to be abandoning theaters as well.

New movies are in real danger.

We are on the right path to saving them.

And we will win.



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