I’ve been talking about it loudly and frequently for ages: the entertainment environment is changing rapidly, all sorts of new options are available for acquiring and viewing movies, and Hollywood should be listening to how its customers are telling the industry it needs to change. Going to the multiplex is an expensive and unpleasant proposition these days, and certainly not worth the hassle and the cost when the movies on offer are so terrible so often. (There’s a good reason why box office receipts are down so sharply this spring: the movies suck.) Hollywood might boost its takings some, even with the same crappy movies, if it gave us more options for seeing new movies: day-and-date DVD releases and day-and-date on-demand options.
Hollywood, of course, doesn’t care what I think, and keeps refusing to listen to me. Maybe Hollywood will listen to Steve Jobs?
The Apple honcho spoke at the recent D8 conference, which covers “All Things Digital,” and some of his comments seem to suggest that he and Apple are ready to lead Hollywood into this brave new world. “We want to let people watch whatever they want, when they want,” he said to the crowd of industry types who paid big bucks to listen to his wisdom. “That’s what needs to change.” And this: “I even think you’ll be able to watch a first run movie before it hits theaters… if you want to spend a bunch of money.”
That’s already happening, in fact, with plenty of low-flying indies and foreign films: We’re seeing many films available on a pretheatrical rental basis via Amazon’s Video on Demand service. But all of the movies that have so far been offered this way have been ones that would get only a very limited theatrical release anyway… meaning that these on-demand rentals are the only option most moviegoers have of seeing the film at all prior to a DVD release. The real measure of the on-demand option will come when most moviegoers have a genuine choice: Pay ten bucks for an on-demand “rental” and enjoy a movie with friends from the comfort of your living room, with snacks that won’t break your budget? Or venture out to the multiplex down the street, pay through the nose for sugar water and artery-clogging Golden Topping, and listen to idiots yak on their cell phones during the film?
Jobs suggests that Hollywood may not quite understand that its customers are not the multiplexes or the DVD retailers but the people who actually buy movie tickets and watch movies:
When we went to music companies, we said who is your customer… they said Target, and Best Buy — they thought the retailer was the customer. What changed in that industry was the front end, the distribution and marketing was able to be done in a much more effective way, going right to the end user.
This came in response to a question from “one of the owners of Village Roadshow pictures,” who seemed to think that it was a good thing that the studios have “made a great business of forcing the consumer to come to us.” So there may be a way to go still before Hollywood gets it. But Jobs, at least, seems to understand where things are moving, and with the iPod and now the new success of the iPad, perhaps he can hurry things along a bit.