Video-On-Demand – Threat Or Opportunity?; Measuring Audience At The Movies

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November 7, 2011 – 12:03 am

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Toward A Truly Home Box Office

TV networks aren't the only ones having difficulty with the notion of VOD. Movie studios are also trying to find the right way to gain incremental revenue from day-and-date VOD and theatrical releases. As we are constantly reminded, these are early days. Therefore, it's natural that there be a certain indecision as to whether VOD is a threat or an opportunity for movie studios.

Writing on IndieWire, Anne Thompson takes a quick sampling of current box office hits and misses in an attempt to see how VOD affects ticket sales. The Kevin Spacey Wall St. drama, Margin Call, which cost $3.5 million to make was able to pull in $1.5 million in theatrical sales despite being available as a VOD on the same date as its release. Ultimately, Thompson concludes that "the future favors the lean mean theatrical/VOD model, which works for indies, but not for studios—who are still fighting with exhibitors over a 90-day VOD window."

The large studios are under tremendous pressure from the theater chains to resist the siren call of VOD. Universal chief Ron Meyer, attending the Savannah Film Festival, discussed his desire to find the right VOD moves for the studio, which could have helped recent box office bombs like Cowboys And Aliens and Land of The Lost find an audience at home. (He ultimately conceded that these flicks were "sh-tty" and got the death they deserved, Movieline reported.)

Goodness knows, crappy movies can still make money and when a viewer is at home on a given night, they just might be desperate enough for something different. As such, VOD for less than stellar movies might be the best way of spending studio marketing and distribution dollars. There's even a chance of it developing new life from VOD. Take another Universal failure, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. While a cult hit, it might have accomplished the hit status similar to Fox Searchlight's 2007 Oscar winner Juno.

Meyer, like a lot of studio executives lately, has seen the VOD writing on the wall (or in this case, the flatscreen) and says he is determined to pursue the model, even if he had to admit defeat and aborted a plan that called for releasing the Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy comedy Tower Heist as a VOD at the same time it was opening at theaters. Billed as "test" of VOD interest in new releases, Universal blinked when movie chain Cinemark vowed to boycott the film unless the studio canceled the plan, Movieline reported separately. Since Universal didn't want to be blocked from Cinemark's 300 locations and 3,800 screens, it relented. But Meyer said he will try again.

For now, theater owners do have the power. So studios will have to placate them as more viewers are choosing home video options over going out. After all, in major cities, a movie ticket for two is roughly $25, though some chains are looking to woo customers by rolling back rates. Still, studios are not going to make avoiding the lines by staying home a cheap option. "I think there are a lot of people who won't go to the theater and are happy to pay a premium price — whether $66 is the right price, or it's more or less," Meyer said. "I think there are people that would be willing to pay that price to not have to leave their house and be able to watch that first-run movie while it's still in theaters, on whatever size screen you have at home. I think we have to be better about it, the studios, and the theater exhibitors have to probably be a little more accepting of what we want to do. We'll have to find a way to do it together."

Ultimately, consumers will vote with their wallets, and with the expectation of watching "what you want, when you want" not just at home, but on smart phones and tablets, the movie studios and theater chains will accept VOD kicking and screaming. But the smart ones will figure out the model on their own terms, as the resistant ones will find a model foisted upon them if they wait too long.

Measuring Movie Buzz

Getting a sense of audience's anticipation for a movie has never been easier. So how come it rarely works? After all, shouldn't all the sophisticated modeling and marketing the studios spend millions on help to minimize empty seats at the theaters?

The process of building buzz around a product, be it a movie, a song or a fashion trend, isn't often left to chance. It usually involves some subtle prodding of "influencers" before the chosen item takes off. Still, these are not times of subtlety. With that in mind, Viacom Media Networks' NextMovie, a multiplatform movie brand that claims nearly one million unique monthly visitors on its site and a growing mobile and social presence as well, has launched the MovieTracker chart, powered by buzz analytics provider Trendrr. Movietracker is the equivalent of the age old top 10 list – except that instead of counting how many people are actually listening or watching something, MovieTracker provides an interactive, up-to-the-minute ranking of the top 25 movies — whether in theaters, coming soon or in production — according to the social buzz surrounding each title. Read the release.

While there are many reasons that consumers might reject this kind of overt attempt to market directly to them, in an age that demands transparency, it probably won't hurt. And if Viacom, the owner of MTV, can connect it to its on-air programming and somehow make this an entertaining site/app (think of it as the E! channel or Entertainment Weekly), it might have a shot at success in making NextMovie a go-to destination that will both influence and reflect social media buzz.

Meanwhile, the social TV space keeps getting more crowded. It sounds as if there really is promise in tying long-term viewing to the largely ephemeral nature of social media activity (how many people go beyond looking at the past hour of tweets on Twitter or status updates on Facebook?). Or is it a sign of Hollywood's stubborn determination to latch on to the latest thing. We'll find out ultimately.

For now, keep an eye on Brooklyn-based Social Guide, the social TV data startup that raised $1.5 million this past summer. Lost Remote's Natan Edelsburg reports that Social Guide is about to release an analytics platform this month. "I think it's going to be very different than what Trendrr and Bluefin have," says founder/CEO Sean Casey, who added that "networks need to start recognizing and rewarding," based on the linear programming they're already using.

So far, Nielsen has nothing to worry about. But over the next two or three years, the traditional audience measurement service will have its dominance tested as Social Guide, Trendrr and others refine their formulas.

Legal App Battles Rage On

The fragile truce that was beginning to emerge between Viacom and Time Warner Cable over the rights to live stream programming through iPad apps has become a hot war again, as settlement talks have broken down, Mediapost's Wendy Davis, David Goetzl report.

Since Viacom has struck a separate deal with Cablevision in August for that MSO's authenticated iPad streaming app, TWC is demanding the exact same terms from Viacom, the parent of MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

TWC had been running programming from Viacom channels on its iPad app until March, when Viacom complained and accused the cable provider of copyright violations.

The case is bringing out the most petty, picayune behavior on the part of both. For example, TWC is also complaining that Viacom violated a contract by moving the focus of its CMT network away from country music.

What in the world could this possibly have to do with the right of simulcast iPad streaming? Absolutely nothing. But it does convey TWC's views of Viacom's stance: complete indifference and unwillingness to compromise on anything, big or small. In other words, this hot war won't be over any time soon.

But Wait. There's More!

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November 7, 2011 – 12:03 am

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