Blame The Audience

In Summer
Fading, Hollywood Sees Fizzle
, a writer for the New York
Times
explores the theory that movie attendance is tanking
because the quality of all too many mega-hyped “major movies” has
plunged into the crapper. Well, no shit, Sherlock — what was
your first clue? Pearl Harbor? Alexander?
Mission Impossible II? What’s really news about this story is
that it’s news — a startling break from the blame-the-audience
thinking so prevalent in Big Media over the last decade.

It’s been most egregious in the music industry, which has spent
most of that decade desperately trying to pin the blame for anemic
sales on anything other than the fact that it spends its marketing
budget pushing no-talent assclowns like Limp Bizkit and ‘N Sync (and
yes, for you Office Space fans, Michael Bolton too).
“Nah,” say the record-company executives to themselves, “It couldn’t
be that. I know, let’s blame file-sharing! Bad audience.
Baaad!

Newspaper circulation is in a death-spiral so steep that at least
four major-city dailies and a national syndicate have been caught
making up millions of readers out of thin air just to stay
viable-looking to advertisers. Could it due to be shallow
print-the-press-release reporting, political bias, and a surfeit of
sensationalism and fluff? “Nah,” say the newspaper executives to
themselves, “It couldn’t be that. I know, let’s blame the
Internet! Bad audience. Baaad!

Of course, one could argue that Big Media is simply taking its cue
from the Democratic Party. (Yes, I know one of those is a wholly-owned
subsidiary of the other, I just can’t keep straight which one is on
top.) If Republicans are beating the stuffings out of you in every
election, it couldn’t be because you have no program beyond screaming
“George Bush is eeeeevil!” and licking the anus of the Designated
Victim Group Of The Week. “Nah,” say the DNCers to themselves, “It
couldn’t be that. I know, let’s blame talk radio and Karl
Rove! Bad audience. Baaad!

What’s really going on here is a confluence of trends. One, which
the Times article points out, is that audiences are
getting better at seeing through hype and rejecting the crap. A second
that the article doesn’t highlight is the proliferation of media
channels and the rise of the Internet. Blogs, cable, satellite radio,
podcasts, remix culture, — these are all part of a trend that
gives media consumers far more choices than they’ve ever had before.
Which means more alternatives and less temptation to settle
for the crap.

Which means that, exactly as audiences have been breaking free of
media oligopolies, media bosses have been telling them they should
kiss their chains. Bad audience. Baaad! But wait —
perhaps this Times article, brought to you by the Grey
Lady aka Dowager Empress of Big Media, is a leading indicator that
some tenuous contact with reality is beginning to develop in the
media-bosses’ brains.

That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But I’m not holding my breath.
Here are some indicators to watch for. More movies like the
Rings trilogy or the Harry Potter sequence that
actually seem to have some kind of heart and respect for their
sources. More pop bands like Lynkyn Park and System of a Down that can
actually play their instruments and seem to have some ideas that weren’t
test-marketed to death by some soulless A&R hack. Newspapers where you
can actually tell the war news from the partisan editorial ax-grinding
(sorry, can’t think of any of those). And — OK, I know this
is a stretch, but stay with me here — a Democratic Party with
an actual platform.

Hear that, media bosses? Best you get it together, because here’s
the sentence that will spell your doom otherwise: I have choices,
and I know how to use them.

21 thoughts on “Blame The Audience

  1. How could Hollywood not be making money of masterpieces like Stealth? I simply can’t understand how such large portions of the media industry can be so out of touch with their audiences. I’d imagine the looming format war for the DVD successor probably won’t help much for 2006 and 2007 if the movies don’t do something.

  2. For that matter, simply doing away with focus groups would be a good sign of progress. I say this as a fan of a cartoon lineup that was focus-grouped to death.

  3. I don’t really give a hoot about what the critics, pundits, and newsrags say to analyze the market changes. Why? Markets change. Those who failed to sense and modify their market strategy accordingly are going to try to find something to blame. That is not newsworthy.

    It would be refreshing if those who screwed-up accepted accountabiity for it, learned from the mistake, and then simply adapted to the changes.

  4. My declining movie attendence in theaters is directly related to the rising number of commercials shown before the movie. I liked trailers because commercials for movies in a movie theater were pretty doggone exiting and appropriate, when there were 2 or 3 of them, not 5. I tolerated the slide show of local advertisements with soft background music. But when they started showing full-on TV commercials, I stopped going to the theater as much. Locally it started with a silly Pepsi ad, then they added commercials for TV shows. Then full-on overproduced infomercials (called “The Twenty” here). Blecch!

  5. Why would I go to a movie when we can go out, have a couple of drinks and listen to
    first class jazz for less expenditure.

    Movies are vastly overpriced.

    My email address is human readable (out loud) but should deter ‘bot collection.

  6. I think a great portion of the trouble with movies now is that there are a whole lot of “film-makers” and very few “storytellers.” Every movie out there seems to be chunks of other movies put in different clothes and paraded around. And nearly every movie out there seems like its tag line could be “It’s [other movie] meets [different movie], for the ride or your life!”

    Translated, “You loved it years ago when it was called [other movie]. Please love it again!”

  7. I actually *like* “The Twenty”. I realise I’m in the minority, but I tend to look beyond the question of whether a commercial is trying to sell me something, and view it as a short film. I look at what techniques it uses. I look at what kind of marketing it’s attempting. These things interest me.

    Commercials, like other advertising, reflect the culture of the time. Our commercials say what kind of people we are. Why doesn’t that interest other people? There are an awful lot of smart, insightful, free-thinking people out there seeing commercials and saying “these suck, I wish we didn’t have them”. Why aren’t they analysing and interpreting them more often?

  8. Concur with Josh Poulson, and I’ll add another factor – the consolidation of theaters. Instead of 25 five-screen theaters, we now have five 25-screen theaters; the drive time to the nearest theater has approximately doubled. The theater complex is larger, so it takes longer to find a parking spot, walk across the lot, wait in line to buy a ticket, and walk from the lobby to the theater. Overall, I spend about twice as much time now getting from my front door to the seat in the theater. Consequently, I am less likely to see a movie on a whim.

  9. Hey! You’re still going to see Serenity, right? You’d gorram better, ’cause if it’s really the crapulent movies that’re making the audience stay away, put your money where your mouth is and see a good one when it comes out.

    (And yes, I can make that call; I saw a preview screening.)

  10. I had a strange experience in the theater recently.

    I saw a movie that had all the material for a tragedy. There was a man who asked too many questions, a situation in which too many people had invested too many billions to let go, and a top-line medical installation with a dirty little secret that made the billions of dollars pour in. A villain with a god-complex, a hero who had a chance to give his life to stop the madness, and an observer who could take the story to the rest of the world were all in place as the end approached.

    But the movie-makers tried to make the ending happy. They had to save their hero, they had to have one of those glorious moments when all the trapped people escape…and they tried to ignore the fact that the escape was into a world that these people wouldn’t understand, and would most likely die in.

    The set-up had all the material needed to make a tragic ending. It would have been moving and compelling, and raised questions about humanity, technology, and person-hood.

    Instead, they tried to weld a happy ending onto the end. It was a happy endings that I’d seen wearing another suit in another movie.

    I agree, there are too many film-makers and not enough story-tellers.

  11. BeckoningChasm, “[other movie] meets [different movie]” pretty much sums up how the creator needs to pitch his idea to the studio, if he wants to see it made.

    E.W. Dijkstra wrote a brilliant article about how dire consequences for society loom when new knowledge must be expressed in terms of what came before.

  12. I have a confession to make. I have a penchant for bad movies. Bad computer-themed movies (e.g., Hackers, Swordfish) and bad action movies (e.g., Ecks vs. Sever, Mission Impossible 2, Swordfish) tend to intrigue me in particular. When at a Wal-Mart I find myself perusing the used-DVD section for a Jerry Bruckheimer wannabe explosion-fest. I’m not sure why this is; perhaps attempting to analyze them, as Caliban Darklock indicated, says something about our culture. Or perhaps it’s just that I, cleverer as I am than most, sometimes also feel the need to shut my brain down and just enjoy watching Hugh Jackman drop a logic bomb through the trap door (which sounds like a euphemism for either a kinky sexual practice or defecation; I’m not yet sure which).

  13. Jeff, I enjoy the MST3K effect from watching bad tv or bad movies–getting to make fun of them and feel intellectually superior. It’s a low form of entertainment, but sometimes some nice creamy brain-candy is all you want.

    The last movie I saw in the movie theater was either Harry Potter or ROTK–whichever one came out more recently. I expect the next one will be the next HP movie. Rarely does my interest in a movie overcome my dislike of crowded and expensive movie theaters. It’s much nicer to watch at home. The popcorn is better, the seats are more comfortable, and you can pause it to go to the toilet. When a full price DVD is cheaper than a night at the cinema for two, it’s no wonder that so many people can’t be arsed to leave home.

  14. Movie tickets are also expensive. $9 for a movie ticket? I could buy an album for that, or a DVD, or a paperback book. Or I could go to the park and see some Shakespeare. Or I could go swing dancing. At that price, only an exceptionally good-looking movie, such as The Lord of the Rings, will tempt me.

  15. Jeff, please give an URL to the Dijsktra article if you can! Thank you.

  16. David McCabe: do you live in a big city or something? I live out in a small town (y’know, where people not in cities or farms lived before there were suburbs), and we have weekend matinees for five bucks. (The one out in the mall is six-fifty for a matinee, which I wouldn’t have paid if it hadn’t been a Terry Gilliam flick.) I remember, in my callow youth (about ten years ago), there was a second-run theater that had evening showings for two or three bucks. The movies were six months delayed, but we didn’t have television, so I didn’t really notice.

  17. grendelkhan: So maybe movies are cheaper if you live in the middle of nowhere. Here’s it’s $9 or $7.50 for a matinee, and matinees are an unpleasent waste of daylight.

    I agree with shell.

  18. I have had two reasons for not going to movies: I have a kid and I don’t want to pay for a sitter; movie theater management thinks I’m deaf.

    Or maybe it’s just that they WANT me to be deaf, because the volume levels are painful. I would rather wait until the movie comes out on DVD and rent it 4 times for every ticket I didn’t buy, than pay to have my hearing damaged. Before I gave up on theaters completely, I had taken to wearing earplugs. My wife thought I was crazy until, after a show had started, reached over and asked me if I had a spare pair for her.

  19. Well what do you guys expect? There has to be the good, the bad and the ugly wherever you go. The problem is that we expect great films ALL the time, so Holywood puts itself under pressure by loads of companies trying to make the biggest and best blockbusting film of the year, the better directors dont have time or money to mess around trying to get their film perfect because the producers are screaming for their balls because the investors are screaming for theirs… Of course, some golden films just happen to have that working combination and just “work”…. Anyway, I think the general population are starting to realise most of these points… we’ll just have to see how it pans out in the next millennium.. or whether holywood will even remain such an important place at all…

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