It all depends on who you ask. Just before I left for NAB I’d read two takes on the future of the motion picture industry. Though fast moving, the industry hasn’t had any tectonic shifts since early April, so these are still timely reads. The nature of a community so dependent on wildly creative storytelling is that hyperbole is the norm, so Lynda Obst‘s Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business ought be taken with a grain of salt. Salon ran an excerpt here. Obst explains why we keep seeing the same Spiderman movie every ten years or so, and also explains why movies have been so blatantly dumbed down. It’s good context, but it doesn’t present much of a path forward. A lot of the standard culprits stand accused, piracy, the decline of DVD sales, and, of course, those dreaded, fast-growing international markets.
A pleasant counterweight to Obst’s state of the industry is presented in Brooks Barnes’ March 29 New York Times profile of Kevin Tsujihara, the CEO of Warner Brothers. Rather than fear Hollywood’s new rivals, Tshujihara embraces them. The Lego Movie was produced after Warner acquired the Lego video game maker. He’s increased Warner Bros. investment in reality television. And he’s emphasizing digital sales of movies to consumers – a business that could be far more profitable than the DVD business, which was largely based on the rental market. Sell the DVD once and Netflix mails it out dozens of times. Sell the digital version to all the end users, and the rental companies are disintermediated. It’s not a slam dunk, customers might just as well prefer streaming to owning, but there is an opportunity.
Tsujihara’s Warner Bros. is doubling down on the movie business. It’s releasing three more features this summer than it did last year, and only one, Godzilla is based on an existing franchise. Even when going with herd, Warner Bros. seems willing to buck trends. The theatrical release of the partially Kickstrater-funded Veronica Mars film in March coincided with on-demand release. It took a little bit of creativity to stay within the theater chains’ 90-day exclusivity window, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
I’m no better a prognosticator than a monkey with a handful of darts, but I have a hunch that things aren’t as bleak as Obst would have us believe.