Friday, April 26, 2013

The Future of Film Live: Expect change

Disruptive was the word of the day in the Tribeca Film
Festival panel “Future of Film Live.” Thursday’s session incorporated two
panels. The first talked about the future of the theatre experience, with an
emphasis on in-theatre dining. The panelists included representatives from AMC
Theatres, Alamo Drafthouse and the IFC Center, and the co-founder of
Snarkitecture. The moderator, Media ReDEFined owner Jason Hirschhorn, played up
his neurotic movie needs, like the anxiety of getting the best seats, finding a
kiosk that works, and having an optimal viewing experience. His questions often
forced the panelists to play defense, asserting that they indeed addressed the
ease of the moviegoing experience and have taken out those front three
“whiplash” rows.

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Alamo Drafthouse has both a strict no-texting, no-talking
policy designed to “create environments for the avid moviegoer,” as well as
in-theatre dining, which can be a bit of a distraction, with clanking forks and
busy servers—even ninja-like ones. Chief Development Officer Tim Reed
acknowledged that the two things can be in conflict with each other, but that
the theatre’s overall focus on the guest experience smooths things over. AMC
Entertainment is testing both in-theatre dining as well as a new “marketplace”
concept where guests can go to stations to pick up their popcorn and nachos
before paying at the end, making people feel less rushed and giving them
“freshness cues” as they see their food prepared, according to Jennifer
Douglass, AMC’s VP of Dine-In Theatre Operations. IFC Center had the opposite
perspective. They originally had a small café and bar, but they tore it out
after less than two years in order to make room for two theatres. For Jon
Vanco, SVP and GM of IFC Center, it was about redirecting focus on what the
theatre was best at: programming. In the bar-heavy Greenwich Village, where
real estate is also at a premium, it made sense to focus on the movies, not the

Tribeca film festival future of film live 1

After a break, Verge’s Joshua Topolsky had a one-on-one
conversation with co-owner of 2929 Entertainment, Todd Wagner. The entrepreneur,
who has had a toe in both the tech and entertainment worlds, was frank in his assessments
of the industry. In the future, he thinks people in the entertainment world
will need to be “bilingual,” speaking the language both of technology and
entertainment, “without a translator in the room.” He was blunt and insightful.
When the moderator asked, “Why can’t I watch The Avengers for $50 the week it came out?” Wagner smiled. “You
know why,” he said to Topolsky, who turned up stumped. “It’s NATO [National
Association of Theatre Owners.” “Aren’t you a theatre owner yourself?” Topolsky
replied, to the audience’s laughter. Wagner does have a stake in Landmark
Theatres, but he also sees change in the future.

Wagner would like to see the film rental model change, so a
title that’s on VOD one month after release, for example, would give a greater
percentage to the theatre owner than is standard. Something like a 1% stake in
ancillary markets would also acknowledge the work theatres do promoting films
and making them a success beyond the theatre. He also hinted that he has a
startup that will launch in a few months that will answer some of the
industry’s problems—but didn’t say any more. 
He emphasized that change is the only thing that is certain. Once a
technology is introduced into a marketplace, there’s no going back. That’s why
the studios couldn’t stop the VCR and why the (illegal) downloads pioneered by
Napster gave way to iTunes and VOD. For studios, the cautionary tale is the
music industry, which was decimated by technology and now has become a “singles”
business that pays 30% of its sales to iTunes, the preferred provider of
digital music files. No one wants the movie industry to have the same fate. But
if Wagner is right, there’s one certainty about the film industry a decade from
now: it will change.

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