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TOPIC: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts!

Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 24 Jan 2006 11:28 #12190

  • Mike
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Bubble, the first Soderbergh film to open on DVD, Cable, and on the silver screen opens this friday. I hope it fails like a blown axle. Anyone playing it?

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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 24 Jan 2006 11:40 #12191

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Good timing -- or two-timing?
Releasing films in theaters and on cable and DVD simultaneously is getting a tryout.It could be good for the industry -- or it could be really bad.
By Ty Burr, Globe Staff | January 22, 2006

''Bubble," the new Steven Soderbergh film that opens at the Kendall this Friday, is an intentionally small-time affair, shot in 18 days with a six-person crew, and starring nonprofessional locals from the flyspeck Ohio town in which it was filmed.

What ''Bubble" represents to Hollywood, by contrast, couldn't be bigger or more threatening. By airing on cable and arriving in video stores on DVD the same day it premieres in theaters, this unprepossessing heartland murder mystery has landed like a bomb in the middle of the raging industry controversy over entertainment ''windows." What movies we see, when we see them, and -- most important -- what impact they'll make on pop culture and on the profit margins of the movie studios may never be the same.

Traditionally, a film is released first to movie theaters, then moves to DVD in four months or so; these theatrical and video ''windows" are followed in turn by exposure on video-on-demand, pay cable, basic cable, broadcast TV, etc. The thinking is that each window represents a fresh chance to squeeze further revenue out of a film. Lately the thinking has been changing.

The entertainment corporations started the ball rolling in recent years when they began to shorten the lag time between a film's theatrical and DVD releases from six months to the current 129-day average. The reason was simple: greed. By being able to report DVD profits for summer blockbusters on their fourth quarter balance sheets, the studios looked like heroes to Wall Street. They could also take advantage of the promotional afterglow of a box-office release, the assumption being that you don't have to work so hard (or spend so much money) to promote a DVD of a film that's still fresh in consumers' minds.

With each day less between windows, though, the people who run America's movie theaters have grown increasingly panicked. The film exhibition business is fragile already: Profits for theater owners come from popcorn rather than ticket sales, and a 6 percent decrease in attendance during 1999 and 2000 was enough to send many theater chains into bankruptcy. Last year saw another drop, with sky-is-falling news coverage every other day and a general sense of apathy, if not contempt, among US moviegoers. Enough people are waiting for the DVD as it is, theater owners worry, and now the studios want to give it to them earlier?

''We'd love to see a yearlong window," says G. Kendrick Macdowell, general counsel for the National Organization of Theater Owners. ''We're always happy with the window being as long as possible. It preserves that feel of 'going to the movies' that's an integral part of American culture." And that presumably keeps NATO members solvent.Continued...

It was with something akin to terror, then, that theater owners heard Robert Iger, the incoming head of Disney/ABC, proclaim in September that windows need to compress further. Much further. ''I don't think that it's out of the question that a DVD can be released in the same window as a theatrical release," Iger told industry analysts. ''I think that all the old rules should be called into question, because the rules, in terms of consumption, have changed so dramatically."

He had a point. With TV shows now available for iPods the day after airdate, the whole television schedule unmoored by the rise of TiVo, and CDs streaming down high-speed Internet connections instead of out music-store doors, the culture as a whole is moving in the direction of greater consumer freedom. And let's not even bring up piracy. Why wait to see a movie at home? Isn't that like hearing a song on the radio and having to wait five months to buy the CD?

The ''Bubble" initiative was already out there by the time of Iger's broadside. In May of last year, Soderbergh had announced an alliance with 2929 Entertainment, the independent media company owned by entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner: He would shoot five low-budget digital-video features, and 2929 would release them simultaneously in Cuban's Landmark Theater chain (including the Kendall Square and Waltham Embassy locally), on DVD, and on the HDNet cable service. Exhibitors bristled but dismissed the plan as the work of industry small fry. The Iger sanction upped the stakes considerably.

Off came the gloves. NATO head John Fithian immediately called the Disney executive's blue-sky proposal a ''death threat" to his industry. Other studio chiefs rushed to plug the leak, with Sony president Tom Bernard thundering that ''polluting the theatrical window is doom." Even filmmakers got into the act: A month after Iger's statement, ''Sixth Sense" director M. Night Shyamalan told a convention of exhibitors that releasing movies to DVD the same day they hit theaters is ''heartless and soulless and disrespectful."

Oh, really? Who truly stands to win and lose if -- let's talk theoretically for a moment -- the gap between theatrical and DVD is erased and movies come out on all platforms simultaneously, in a pattern the industry calls ''day and date"? According to a study released in December by JPMorgan, it's pretty clear who the losers would be: Theatrical box office would be gutted by 49 percent. At the same time, the study concluded that DVD sales would increase 78 percent and rentals would go up by 64 percent, with the overall studio revenue jumping 36 percent, from $15 billion to $20 billion.

Put that way -- which is the only way the entertainment conglomerates understand it -- day-and-date could be a historical inevitability and your local multiplex may be teetering on the brink of extinction. Or maybe not: Now that the studios and exhibitors are finally committing to the rollout of digital projection systems -- technical specifications have been hammered out and cost-sharing negotiations are underway -- the studios may be able to save some of the money they lay out for prints and advertising, which alone ran to $4.4 billion in 2004.

And who wants to give up what may be the best advertisement for a DVD invented -- the film's theatrical release? NATO's Macdowell dismisses day-and-date as improbable. ''It's a bad business model as well as a bad artistic decision," he says. ''What you're doing is collapsing your revenue streams into a single platform. You're not going to have people seeing it in theaters then buying it on DVD. It's going to be a one-shot deal.

''The other negative," Macdowell continues, ''is that you strip movies of the panache of the original theatrical release -- you collapse it into a television movie-of-the-week. Preservation of the windows makes good business sense because it separates out different revenue streams to different consumer preferences and maintains the appeal of movies as special events."

Try telling that to Todd Wagner. ''This is not meant to be an attack on theatrical," insists the CEO of 2929 Entertainment. ''This is meant to try to increase DVD sales. Five to 10 percent of Americans are frequent moviegoers; that means 90 percent of Americans rarely go to the movies. We want to reach more of those people and still not harm exhibitors. The goal here is to raise all boats."

And what if the boats sink?

''If we're wrong, we'll stop doing it," insists Wagner. ''We're not kamikaze pilots. We know that consumers like [getting movies when they want in the format they want] -- that's a given. And we know that it protect costs -- that's a given. Now the argument is what it does to the revenue. And I'm sorry, nobody knows for sure."

To be fair, the ''Bubble" plan is a far cry from jamming the new ''Harry Potter" out there in all formats at once. It's an intentionally small-potatoes project mean to dip a toe in the waters of day-and-date: 2929 and its distribution subsidiary Magnolia Pictures are hedging their bets by releasing the film to approximately 40 art house theaters in the Landmark and other indie chains while airing it only twice on the HDNet cable channel, which services customers with high-definition television sets only. After those two premiere-day airings, ''Bubble" will disappear from TV for the duration of the theatrical run. The film will also be released on DVD by the company's brand new home-video arm, Magnolia Home Entertainment.

In essence, the cable window will act as an extended word-of-mouth advertisement for the DVD and big-screen versions -- a practice 2929 found worked well when it day-and-dated the documentary ''Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" and the terrorism drama ''The War Within" on HDNet and in theaters last year. It will also, not coincidentally, serve as high-end bait to lure more customers to the HDNet service. ''By having first-run theatrical movies, we want to get more subscribers," admits Wagner freely.

One incentive Wagner and Cuban are holding out to theater owners is a cash-back guarantee of 1 percent of a film's DVD sales. ''Theaters feel they market movies but never share in the downstream revenues," says Wagner. ''We're saying, let's try to make them a partner in all this." The early-bird DVDs will also be priced at a slightly higher premium than a standard-release disc.

A similar endeavor is underway over at Cablevision subsidiary Rainbow Media, which produces and distributes indie films and runs the Independent Film Channel cable channel and Rainbow Video-on-Demand, among other services. In March, Rainbow will introduce what it calls IFC-in-Theaters to cable subscribers: small movies fresh off the festival circuit that will screen in the company's IFC Center theater in New York City while being available simultaneously to video-on-demand customers as part of a subscription package or a la carte.

The first releases in what Rainbow CEO Josh Sapan is calling a ''national art-film house" will be ''Sorry, Haters," starring Robin Wright Penn, and ''American Gun," with Donald Sutherland and Forest Whitaker. Says Sapan about IFC-in-Theaters, ''The name is the promise: We will have movies on the service that you can purchase individually, and they will premiere there the very same day they premiere in theaters. You can go out to a Chinese restaurant and see the movie or order Chinese food in and watch it."

Far from cannibalizing profits for mainstream movies, the 2929 and Rainbow plans could stand to benefit fans of independent film. ''It really creates the equivalent of an electronic art house: Viewers outside of New York and Boston will be able to see Lars von Trier's 'Manderlay' and not have to wait three or four months. Someone in Tallahassee will read about it online and say, 'I want to see that.' It'll open up access to viewers, and that access will translate to consumption and money, and that money will find its way back to filmmakers."

Sapan even thinks his strategy may help theater owners. ''The story's not yet told," he says. ''I think it's possible that what we're doing will have a neutral or beneficial effect on box office. For many independent films the first challenge is to get any attention at all. I'm not sure that audience word-of-mouth doesn't result in greater aggregate consumption going not just to the TV screen. Those who have affection for independent film have affection for the theatrical experience. It's possible it won't have a Draconian eroding effect."

And if it does? ''Well, then, so goes the world. If the pattern alters over time, it alters." Exhibitors aren't holding their breath; the major multiplex chains have adopted a corporate policy of not booking films released on other platforms during the theatrical window, a fiat Wagner hopes they'll come to reconsider ''if we can illustrate that over time they're better off sharing revenues. And if you're a moviegoer, I think you'll continue to be one. It's still one of the entertainment options that's affordable."

NATO's Macdowell isn't receptive to such promises but for the time being professes not to care that much about Soderbergh's and Sapan's experiments. ''We wish them well," he says dismissively. '' 'Bubble' is not a movie that would have box-office traction. It's really kind of a win-win for us. If they do well, great, but it's not relevant. If they don't do well, that's a pretty bad sign for day-and-date."

Even if ''Bubble" bursts without impact, though, the studios will be watching audience traffic patterns extremely closely. It may be only a matter of time before more mainstream fare -- a midbudget action film, a drama with appeal to older audiences -- takes the day-and-date plunge and shows up on a TV or at a Blockbuster near you. The great experiment is about to begin -- let a thousand release patterns bloom. And let's hope movie theaters are still standing when they're done.
Michael Hurley
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[This message has been edited by Mike (edited January 24, 2006).]
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 24 Jan 2006 13:17 #12192

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Just depressing.

I still haven't seen anything in the day and date plan that would benefit the exhibition industry. In the article, Cuban suggests a paltry 1% profit share for theater owners on the simultaneous sale of DVDs. This even though the JP Morgan study says that theaters will lose 49% of sales while DVD sales, DVD rentals, and overall studio revenue will jump by 78%, 64%, and 36% respectively.

Besides, how do they distribute that measley 1%? By population in your area? By number of DVD sales in your area? By your past ticket sales reports? By the new lower ticket sales figures created by the day and date system? How do you improve your business? How do you even hold on? It's leftover garbage any way you slice it. Odds are that independents will not even get a fair share of this tiny incentive. Even with pumped up DVD sales, it seems to me that if exhibitors cooperate that it will be like selling Manhatten for $24 worth of beads and baubles.

Personally, I don't believe that the JP Morgan figures are right. I think they probably make the poor assumption that everything else will remain the same, that exhibitors will continue to show all the movies that Hollywood puts out. We already know that many, if not most theaters are not going to cooperate with their plan. I just hope that the other distributors don't jump on the band wagon just because some small organization like Mark Cuban's might make a few extra dollars. Why wouldn't he? He only has a small stake in the exhibition side of the equation, when you compare his holdings to the whole industry. He'll be making his money by helping to cannibalize his competitors, and by expanding his market far beyond his small number of theaters. 2929 Entertainment is going to get a lot more press for their low budget releases than they ever would without all this hoopla about their attempt at a day and date release model. We all know that controversy sells tickets, or is it DVDs now?

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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 26 Jan 2006 15:22 #12193

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Found this today at http://www.imdb.com/news/sb/2006-01-26/
26 January 2006

Exhibitors Blowing Off 'Bubble'
Theater owners are apparently mounting a fairly united front to black out the Steven Soderbergh-directed Bubble in many cities on Friday. Exhibitors object to the planned simultaneous release of the movie on DVD and on pay-per-view high-definition TV. (The film is actually being released on DVD on Tuesday, the day of the week that virtually all DVDs are released.) The film is being distributed by Magnolia Pictures, owned by Mark Cuban, the dot-com entrepreneur who also owns 2929 Entertainment, the film company that backed Bubble, and the art-house theater chain Landmark Theaters. The Baltimore Sun reported today (Thursday) that no theater in that city, the country's 24th largest market, will screen the film. It quoted Scott Cohen, head of R/C Theater Management, as saying, "At this point we're not going to play any movie that is under that model." In Seattle, where the film will open at one theater, Landmark's Metro, an unnamed exhibitor told the Post-Intelligencer, "It's not a question of if we will be hurt [by simultaneous release of movies in theaters and on DVD]; it's a question of how much." In an article on his website posted on Wednesday, Cuban indicated that some exhibitors have defied the stonewall being erected against his film, but he does not indicated how many have agreed to screen it. He urges patrons of those theaters to "thank the manager ... for having the balls to go against the rest of the industry."
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 26 Jan 2006 21:03 #12194

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It is only opening on 32 theatre screens. Not sure how much of a test that really amounts to.
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 26 Jan 2006 21:49 #12195

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Below is the entire screening schedule available from the Bubble official web site. It's so short, I didn't think you'd mind if I posted it. If you know any owners or managers of these theaters, you might want to ask them what they are thinking. Of course, most of the theaters listed are part of the Landmark chain. However, I noticed that a few of their locations are not listed here. I wonder why they aren't all going to play it.

01/27/2006 Loft Cinema Twin , AZ, Tucson
01/27/2006 Act 1 & 2 , CA , Berkeley
01/27/2006 Hillcrest Cinemas , CA , San Diego
01/27/2006 Lumiere Theatre , CA , San Francisco
01/27/2006 Nuart Theatre , CA , West Los Angeles
01/27/2006 Mayan Theatre , CO , Denver
01/27/2006 E Street Cinema , DC , Washington
02/17/2006 Theater N at Demours , DE , Wilmington
02/16/2006 Stage West at the Duncan Theatre , FL , Lake Worth
01/27/2006 Midtown Art Cinemas 8 , GA , Atlanta
03/04/2006 Doris Duke Theatre , HI , Honolulu
01/27/2006 University of Iowa, Bijou Theater , IA , Iowa City
01/27/2006 Landmark's Century Centre Cinema , IL , Chicago
01/27/2006 Keystone Art Cinema 7 , IN , Indianapolis
01/27/2006 Kendall Square Cinema , MA , Cambridge
01/27/2006 Main Art Theatre , MI , Royal Oak
01/27/2006 Lagoon Cinema , MN , Minneapolis
01/27/2006 Tivoli Theatre , MO , University City
01/27/2006 Galaxy Theatre - Cary , NC , Cary
01/27/2006 CCA Cinematheque , NM , Santa Fe
01/30/2006 Guild , NM , Albuquerque
01/27/2006 Sunshine Cinema , NY , New York
01/27/2006 Little Theatre , NY , Rochester
02/15/2006 Market Arcade Film & Arts Center , NY , Buffalo
01/27/2006 Cincinnati Art Museum , OH , Cincinnati
01/27/2006 Shaker Square Cinemas , OH , Shaker Heights
02/01/2006 Wexner Center for the Arts , OH , Columbus
02/03/2006 Austintown Cinema , OH , Youngstown
01/27/2006 Circle Theatre , OK , Tulsa
01/27/2006 Roxy Theatre Philadelphia , PA , Philadelphia
02/16/2006 Scranton Cultural Center , PA ,Scranton
02/10/2006 Belcourt Theatre , TN , Nashville
01/27/2006 Dobie Theatre , TX , Austin
01/27/2006 Magnolia Theatre - Dallas , TX , Dallas
01/27/2006 River Oaks Theatre , TX , Houston
01/27/2006 Metro Cinemas , WA , Seattle
01/27/2006 Oriental Theatre , WI , Milwaukee
01/27/2006 WVSC Capitol Center Theater , WV , Charleston
01/27/2006 Smoot Theatre , WV , Parkersburg
02/03/2006 Opera House Theatre , WV , Shepherdstown
02/04/2006 Lascaux Micro Theatre , WV , Buckhannon
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 29 Jan 2006 17:37 #12196

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Last night at dinner two friends asked about Bubble. They knew Soderbergh's name. If he had released a couple of made for TV films instead of using theatrical release for Sex/Lies/etc and Traffic, etc. would anyone care about a movie by someone no one knows? No. They are coasting on our promotions.

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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 29 Jan 2006 19:48 #12197

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Sounds like the movie tanked on the bigscreen. I found this today at www.boxofficeguru.com

Steven Soderbergh's Bubble, which opened in theaters and debuted on the HDnet cable channel this weekend, posted a soft opening with an estimated $72,000 from 32 theaters for a mild $2,250 average. The ultralow-budget doll factory drama also hits DVD on Tuesday in a radical release plan that allows moviegoers to choose how they want to see the film.
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 30 Jan 2006 02:39 #12198

Insane! I hope the film companies stop screwing us over with things like this and all the other games they play.

I for one would rather see a movie on the big screen while I can............
Tony H.
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 31 Jan 2006 09:51 #12199

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Ok, so Bubble had a soft opening. What does that really mean in this case? Until they tally up revenue from all 3 sources, film, dvd, and TV, nobody will really know what's going on.

I've seen comments where people assume because the opening in theaters is soft that the experiment is a failure. Besides, they have 5 more films planned under this scheme. It may be a long agonizing wait for the final results.

What do you think?

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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 31 Jan 2006 12:42 #12200

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Call me cynical but I think no matter what happens they will call it a win. They want this to happen and this 'experiment' could really be a ruse to make it sound like good financial sense to get others on board with the idea.....
"What a crazy business"
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 31 Jan 2006 14:22 #12201

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"What a crazy business"
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 31 Jan 2006 23:20 #12202

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Leeler, that was a very interesting albeit depressing debate. After reading it all, the only thing I have to say is:

Does anyone want to buy my theatre?

I think it might be time to retire.
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 01 Feb 2006 02:17 #12203

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Roxy - I saw this snowballing down the hill for some time now. That's why I chose to get out last October.
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Re: Bubble opens Friday and I hope it bursts! 01 Feb 2006 04:40 #12204

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If ROXY (the eternal optimist of the theater business) is GENUINELY concerned by this article, then we all should pay heed, BUT I SUSPECT his reply is tongue in cheek... I have always been the voice of gloom and doom around here, proclaiming that IF the studios could find a good way to sell their product direct, they would kick us to the curb without a backward glance... THIS film is NOT going to be the one which sets the example, it would probably have had only a VERY limited release in theaters (in the typical distribution pattern of today) and might have even gone to direct DVD, so whatever hype it generates by being "first" in the "new wave" will only give it a boost it wouldn't have otherwise received... Does anyone think this picture would have gotten a fraction of the media attention it's getting, otherwise?... The results so far are inconclusive, but whoever wants to spin them his way will do so because there is no standard to compare it to... Others will likely jump on board, but until one hits really BIG NUMBERS it's STILL an unanswered question... UNTIL someone has the guts to risk a major picture with a normal budget in this crapshoot, that will ultimately decide where this all goes... As scared as the studios are running nowadays, THAT doesn't seem likely for a while...
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