The New Plastics: Niches

October 5, 2010

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In the classic 1968 film The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman plays a young man who has just graduated from college. Everyone, of course, wants to tell him what to do with his life so, at a party one night, one of the adults takes Hoffman aside and says:

“Benjamin, I’m just going to say one word to you. Plastics.”

Certain that he has imparted the secret to future wealth, the man walks away.

If that party occurred today, the word whispered to Benjamin as the key not only to bringing back The Old Hollywood but also to future film business success would have to be “Niches.”

Chasing The Elusive Butterfly

Why niches?

The blockbuster mentality that was ushered in by Jaws in 1975 has taken a heavy toll on those who have chased the elusive butterfly of its promise as though it were indeed The Holy Grail.

Every once in a while, a movie does come along that captures the fancy of the all age groups and tastes. Star Wars, Titanic, The Lord of The Rings films, the Harry Potter films, and Avatar are examples of movies that appealed to all audiences.

These films symbolize the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that has been and continues to be chased by The New Hollywood.

What we don’t hear as much about are the hundreds of movies and billions of dollars that have been lost chasing that same elusive butterfly. For example, both Cutthroat Island and The Adventures of Pluto Nash cost around one hundred million dollars in production alone and neither film grossed even ten million dollars at the box office.

Fueled by their pursuit of mainstream success, studios have made bigger and bigger bets on fewer and fewer films.

The promise of a mainstream blockbuster has caused more filmic shipwrecks than all the seductive sirens ever born.

Of Visionaries and Bass Fishing

Just like their studio corporate cousins, the broadcast networks have also dedicated themselves to a desperate treasure hunt for general audience, mainstream riches.

As a result, networks have also suffered through more than their share of mainstream shipwrecks. Does the television series My Mother the Car ring a bell?

As a result of their relentless chase of the elusive mainstream, the so-called big three (ABC, CBS, NBC) networks have lost almost seventy per cent of their audiences since their heyday in the 1960s.

To be fair, some of that loss is due simply to increased competition but much of it can also be attributed to the fact that the broadcast networks keep producing the same sitcoms, crime shows, and medical dramas over and over again.

The sharpest dagger in the heart of mainstream television, however, has been cable television’s discovery of the secret of niches.

For instance, most mainstream critics scoffed when both CNN and ESPN were launched as distinct niche networks. The idea of networks devoted only to news or sports was so foreign to the concept of trying to get all eyeballs all the time that very few observers gave either CNN or ESPN much of a chance at survival, let alone success.

Today, even more distinct new niches are being carved out of the arenas that CNN and ESPN pioneered.

In news, The Fox News Channel and MSNBC have differentiated themselves as conservative and liberal news channels, respectively.

In sports, NBA-TV and the NFL Network are completely devoted to year-round coverage of pro basketball and pro football respectively.

And there’s even a bass fishing channel.

Cable is to network television what the niches of The Old Hollywood must become in its new incarnation to the blockbuster mentality of The New Hollywood.

(Excerpted from Bringing Back The Old Hollywood, ã 2010 Stephen Simon, available exclusively at www.TheOldHollywood.com.)

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