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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Turkeys at the Multiplex

Hollywood has a problem. How do I know? Because my kid and Jeffrey Katzenberg told me so. Katzenberg, the Valley’s very own movie mogul, in an oft repeated quote, remarked to an audience at the Milken Institute Global Conference in April that “movies are no longer a growth business.” Now, at this point, I could make fun of the DreamWorks Animation chief, whose hit-to-turkey average would make him a baseball star…but, well, in Tinseltown, it’s another story. Think “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” or “Rise of the Guardians.” But Katzenberg is an extremely bright guy and he’s onto something. What he was referring to is that the day of producing more and more films and packing moviegoers in night after night are long gone … at least domestically. Instead, he talked about a new model in which movies might be available on any platform of any size within 18 days of release to satisfy today’s viewers, who demand to see movies when, where and how they want to. I’m not sure, frankly, why his comments elicited so much chatter. The demise of traditional movie going has been obvious for a long time. Sure, theaters are still packed on Friday and Saturday nights for a new blockbuster that costs jillions to make and another jillion to market. But have you entered a theater on even say a Sunday night, a weekend or two after its release? That can be downright spooky with all those rows of empty seats. But at least you don’t have to go to an upscale theater with reclining seats since there’s plenty of room to stretch your feet in front of you, my favorite. OK, so far this year, ticket sales are actually up a few percentage points, since the monster productions of “Godzilla” and his friends Captain America and Spider Man are resonating with audiences. But the long-term trend in ticket sales is down. And it’s a problem that Hollywood studios have been trying to mask from their investors for years by charging ever higher prices at the box office – and finding new “premium” movie-going experiences to justify it. You know what I am talking about. The biggest attempt over the last several years has been 3-D, of course. It’s something that literally I bought into, along with millions of others. We all shelled out a premium for seats that turned a night at the movies practically into a front row seat the Met. That was until we all collectively figured out 3-D wasn’t all it was advertised to be. Sure “Avatar” was a wonder to behold in the format, but dozens of other movies that followed…well, let me just use the common movie parlance here…sucked. The format, unless done impeccably, is just plain annoying, with weird perspectives that can make people or buildings look like tiny, phony models. It’s so bad that the other weekend when I agreed to accompany my kid to see “Godzilla” – campy, good fun, by the way – he quickly said he rather see it in traditional 2-D format than 3-D. And he’s 15! And what did I recently read? A Korean company called CJ Group has a deal with Los Angeles entertainment company AEG to open a “4-Gx” theater at Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live. The experience promises moving seats, wind, fog, rain and olfactory effects. What I think that means is that you no longer just have to watch some of these Hollywood dogs but now you can smell them. And the privilege will likely cost you a week’s pay. So back to Katzenberg. When he says, movies are no longer a growth industry he surely knows 4-G has about as much chance of making a dent in the long-term decline of ticket sales as premium theaters that offer up glasses of wine to help all those helpings of turkey go down. And when he talks about viewers today demanding to see content in the way they choose, maybe he know what I have been up to. Sure, I go to movies now and then, and I have a nice big flat screen TV in my living room. But I have found lately that my preferred device for watching content is my 7-inch Kindle. No joke. I watched the first two seasons of “House of Cards” on Netflix, lying in bed with the Kindle jammed two inches from my face. It was engrossing and totally enjoyable. Oh, and my bed has plenty of leg room. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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