Saturday, August 12, 2006

So much Business yet to be done!

Box-office bounty stirs deals
go to original article
""Seventy-five percent of the revenue comes from the weekend," Mr. Brown said. His recent initiatives are attempts to address the question: "Is there a way with price that you can create opportunity, a new market?""
This is the question that first got me thinking about how movie theaters run. Or I suppose, it was this question's inverse/evil twin which goes something like:

"All these seats are empty on tuesday afternoons. What a waste! Wait, why am I paying full price for this?"

So, it certainly makes intuitive sense from the consumer side that there's room for a new market based on a new pricing structure.

But after a couple of years of thinking about it, I don't think it's true. There's certainly some amount of inefficiency that is inherent in most theater businesses. They only fill to capacity under very specific conditions. The rest of the time, a lot of them go unused.

But the reality is, the rest of that space can't really be used for the same kind of stuff during the rest of the day. Society revolves around a set of fairly rigid schedules, that are pretty much inflexible. The 9 to 5 workday pretty much accounts for most people's productivity time (including people who work at home). There's just this implicit contract that everyone is going to conduct productive business at this time. 6 to 10 and weekends and holidays is entertainment time. Period.

Until recently, the amount of business that was able to be done during the entertainment hours was plenty fine. But with the current competition for those entertainment hours, the dedicated entertainment spaces can't get it done anymore.

So is there something else that the big spaces can be used for during the daytime? Not that I can think of. Company meetings are not consistent enough, or there are already other resources devoted to that kind of thing within the company. It might be nice to use a public venue like a movie theater for conducting meetings or trainings, but it's just not suited for the task. Think of trying to watch a movie in a company conference room. It works, it's kinda fun for a while, but in the end, it's not that comfortable and it doesn't feel right.

Movie theaters are designed to evoke certain emotions, and productivity is not among them.

And if you think about the other entertainment spaces that are really successful right now, their hallmark is their multi use. Home Theaters that double as living rooms. PCs that double as everything.

I suspect there needs to be some push towards efficiency (if you can call it that) of this nature: making theaters that can totally transform during the day into some other useful venue.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Newsflash: Kids Bored!

Fun Isn't Fun Enough for Teens
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The LA Times (two stories in the last two days) has been making a lot of noise about a recent poll that showed a couple of noteworthy things about teens. They don't particularly like to go to the movie theater. Their interest dwindles as they get older, and they like to multitask (see a nice graphical summary here)

With regard to the last bit, it seems to have brought up a little concern about the negative impact it might be having on our
Another concern for adults is multi-tasking. For the most part, experts have not looked closely at how teens' and young adults' thinking skills, especially when it comes to homework, may be affected by what one software executive has dubbed "constant partial attention."
This is very similar to the zombie epidemic that swept America when people first started trying to do their homework and watch TV at the same time 30 years ago. Or the dip in number of intellectuals suffered in the 1920s when they started selling concessions at the theaters and people would actually attempt to eat and watch movies at the same time.

It's shocking to me that this comes up so frequently. I suppose it's because people aren't familiar with the technologies that "kids these days" are using, or something, that makes everyone so panicky and... insightless. Kids are the same now, as they have been for a bazillion years: easily distracted. This part here, hits it on the head:
"It's like being in a candy store," said Gloria Mark, a UC Irvine professor who studies interactions between people and computers. "You aren't going to ignore the candy; you are going to try it all."
Kids have always been in candy stores. Before there was the internet, there were malls (just ask Kevin Smith). And TV. There have always been places to excite kids who want to try it all.

Movie theaters used to be a place where you could try it all. Adventure, travel, love, sex, fun, friends, popcorn without butter, popcorn with butter... Maybe people are reaching for an explanation that doesn't make them look stupid for not having seen this coming all along. "Kids these days are totally unpredictable! They like to multitask! Who ever heard of that?! There was no way to plan for this!"

Texting seems to be the en vogue way for theaters to get back into the mix. Mark Cuban mentioned it in his response about the rock and roll movie theater and head of MTV films David Gale mentioned it in the second LA Times article about this same poll. Presumably, this is because it's the least disruptive way for people to use their portable devices in the middle of a quiet movie theater. The fact that phone companies will charge the same 15 dollars for unlimited text messages as they do for unlimited data transfer speaks to its popularity.

I can attest to wanting to use my phone to look up actors while in a movie, or jot down notes (to myself). A screen dimmer would definitely help the cause. But, I digress. Whether or not incorporating people's texting into movie theaters will change kids' regard for theaters remains to be seen. I don't see it competing with the flexibility of sitting at home on the internet. Unless they become internet cafes... which, come to think of it, is how they do it in Bangkok.

Patent me a Donut

Patent Reform Act Proposes Sweeping Changes:
"Geccie writes 'CNet is reporting that Senators Patrick Leahy and Orin Hatch have proposed sweeping changes in the patent system in the form of the Patent Reform Act of 2006. Key features are the ability to challenge (postgrant opposition) with the Senate version being somewhat broader and better than the house version.' From the article: 'Specifically, it would shift to a 'first to file' method of awarding patents, which is already used in most foreign countries, instead of the existing 'first to invent' standard, which has been criticized as complicated to prove. Such a change has already earned backing from Jon Dudas, chief of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.'
In case I haven't mentioned it, I'm an advocate of Intellectual Property (some refer to it as Information Policy) rights reform. I think the copyright and patent systems should be restructured.

My rather uniformed opinion is that the processes as they are now, do not seem to encourage and reward innovation as much as they create semi-arbitrary rules for the entities with the most power to play by.

From the perspective of how exhibitors and distributors could be more flexible, I think copyrights should be devalued and things should enter the public domain more quickly. To be honest, I don't know much about patents. Ironically, I filed for one (with a group) last quarter, and it seemed the only point was as a protection against someone trying to take advantage of the system.

In any event, none of this seems terribly relevant to the legislation that's being proposed. I just think it's generally a good thing, that this is an issue on people's minds. I had been worried that this was something that would never change.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Movie Theater's New 'Complaint' Button
go to original article ... or email me for article text
"Loud talking, chair kicking and other movie-theater annoyances may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a new device similar to the flight attendant call button on airplanes.

Moviegoers at the Regal Deer Valley Cinema complex are testing devices that will alert a theater employee when a fellow patron is behaving badly.

Instead of searching the theater lobby for an employee or fuming silently, the "guest response system" enables people to subtly tell on their neighbors from the comfort of their own seats."
I love it. It's a simple fix, that if deployed correctly, can cut right to the people who actually care about these things.

I don't know if these are intended to be installed in seats (I hope not - they'd be rife with abuse from some of the people patrons complain about) but if a patron can choose to pick one of these up at the lobby, or the door of the theater, I think it would go a long way towards silencing some of the most common complaints.

I've always felt like the people who complain about things like cell phones, the people they sit next to, and other things related to the experience are a vocal minority. And on top of that, they're complaining about a few instances that are by no means representative of the majority of moviegoing.

Now, if they have a venue for voicing their complaints (provided, they actually get dealt with), I think people will begin to speak more reasonably about it. It's the feeling of being trapped and helpless that is the biggest contributor, here, I think. If there's actually something that can be done, people might decide that it's worth it to tolerate whatever minor annoyance rather than go through the trouble of picking up a radio device at the box office.

Additionally, I like the idea of a way for people to notify the projectionist about things like sound and focus. I know that I always care about these things (but never want to leave my seat and miss part of the movie). Very sensible. What more can you ask for.

There are a lot of ways to go with this. Obviously cell phones are like a dirty word in theaters, but being able to use any device (i.e. text messaging) to notify the theater about problems would be nice. It might even be workable with proper signage around the theater lobby.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Multiplex Labs

Reading Mark Cuban's response to his own call for suggestions on how to make going to the movies better has renewed my interest in an idea that I tossed around a few months back (but I don't think I ever included in my blog).

At one point, I thought this might be an interesting way to see if it would make more people go to the movies, but I don't think the difference in price will actually make it so that attendance is affected significantly.

But anyway, the idea is this: What if everything about a movie-going experience was sold at a variable price. The quality of the movie, the time, the distance you sat from the screen, the amount of time you actually sat in the movie. Even if this idea didn't serve to bring in more people, I think it would be totally interesting to see answers to the following:

-if people could pro-rate their experience would they cut their losses during movies they didn't like and try a different movie?
-if people could exercise more control over their situations, would they generally be happier?
-would the selections of the people in this setting be a truer indicator of box office success (or maybe DVD sales projections) than current metrics?
-would the pricing for movies that people walked out of halfway through eventually eat into ticket sales that are currently sunk costs when people walk in the door?

(I suppose another interesting extension of this would be to find a way to tally a box office figure minus the people who would have wanted their money back - maybe the intersection of people who watched the movie, but didn't buy the dvd, or the people who bought the dvd, but then sold it -- come to think of it, that's a really good idea. Do people track this? This could probably be done more accurately by selling DVDs along with the movie.)

Just to note, this would be very hard (but very cool) to set up. I envision a card reader in every seat that marks your personal data-card of some sort with all of the day's viewing history. This info would be useful for countless other things... I must have written about this before.

If I ever get to be in charge of a theater, the mad scientist in me just might make a showing.