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Monday Mouse Watch : Why frugal filmgoers are scaring the hell out of Hollywood

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Monday Mouse Watch : Why frugal filmgoers are scaring the hell out of Hollywood

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Okay. Given that "Pirates of the Caribbean : At World's End" sold more than $114 million worth of tickets over its opening weekend, it only stands to reason that this Gore Verbinski film would see some sort of drop-off in business over its second weekend in domestic release, right ?

That said, no one at the Mouse House was expecting the 62.4 % plunge that this Jerry Bruckheimer production took this past weekend. Which suggests that "Pirates 3" may not have the same sort of sea-legs that the first two installments of this Disney Studios series (I.E. "The Curse of the Black Pearl" and "Dead Man's Chest") enjoyed.

Mind you, "Pirates" isn't the only high profile franchise to walk the plank this summer. "Spider-Man 3" saw its ticket sales fall off by 61.5% during that film's second weekend in domestic release, while "Shrek the Third" had a 56.4 % drop-off in business over Weekend No. 2.

So what's going on here ? Well, some Tinseltown types are suggesting that the lousy reviews that this trio of sequels received may have played some part in their sharp drop-off at the box office. While still others are saying that -- given that "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third" and "At World's End" all debuted in over 4100 theaters nationwide, with multiple prints playing on some 10,000+ screens ... Anyone who wanted to see these pictures over their opening weekend could.

But what's really troubling studio heads as well as exhibitors that none of these big budget sequels seems to be doing any significant return business. I mean, it used to be that -- if your company was lucky enough to produce a summer blockbuster -- that you could then count on males between the ages of 13 to 24 to purchase multiple admissions to your motion picture. Which would then in turn super-charge your movie's grosses.

 Copyright 2003 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But with this year's crop of summer blockbusters ... That ain't happening. Young adult males seem to catching each week's big release as it initially arrives in theaters. But after that -- if they like what they see -- these 13 - 24 year-olds aren't rushing right back to the box office to buy another ticket. But -- rather -- they're now opting to wait the three or four months 'til the DVD version of that same film goes on sale.

And that trend ... It really scares the hell out of a lot of people in Hollywood. Given that industry's current business models count on those young adult males to help drive up the grosses of all of these expensive-to-produce summer blockbusters.

Now it's important to stress that nobody's panicking. Not yet, anyway. But -- that said -- the studios & theater owners are still clearly trying to get a handle on what's going on this summer.

Don't believe me ? Then check out this series of questions that recently appeared in a online survey. One that the Walt Disney Company commissioned in order to determine where & when "Pirates of the Caribbean" fans would finally get around to seeing "At World's End" :

How many times have you been to the movies in a theater in the past 12 months?
  • Less than 6
  • 6 - 7
  • 8 - 9
  • 10 - 11
  • 12 or more

How often do you see movies during the first week or 10 days after they open?

  • Very often
  • Often
  • Occasionally
  • Rarely
  • Never

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Do you have to see or have you seen this movie in a theater?

  • I've already seen it
  • Definitely
  • Probably
  • I'm not sure
  • Probably not
  • Definitely not

When do you plan on seeing or when did you see "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"?

  • Opening weekend in a theater
  • Within the first two weeks of release in a theater
  • In a theater at a later date
  • I'm going to wait to see it on Video/DVD
  • I don't plan to see it at all

What's intriguing about this particular survey is -- reportedly in response to some moviegoers' complaints about how dark & scary "Dead Man's Chest" was -- Disney also polled parents to determine ...

... How interested are you in taking your child under 12 years old to see "Pirates of the Caribbean" in a theater?

  • Definitely
  • Probably
  • I'm not sure
  • Probably not
  • Definitely not

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

When are you planning on taking your child under 12 years old to see "Pirates of the Caribbean"?

  • Opening weekend in a theater
  • Within the first two weeks of release to a theater
  • In a theater at a later date
  • I'm going to wait to see it on Video/DVD with my child
  • I don't plan to take my child at all

It's this particular trend that really troubles the folks at the Disney. The fact that so many parents are now holding off on taking their children to the local multiplex in order to see the studio's newest releases. Not because they think that the Mouse's movies are too dark & scary. But -- rather -- because .... Well, when you compare the cost of buying movie tickets & refreshments for the entire family versus what it costs to buy the DVD of that same film ... It just makes more economic sense for the average family to wait for the DVD.

Mind you, the Mouse is trying to counteract this by pushing exhibitors to add more digital screens to their cinemas. Which can then be used to present Digital 3D versions of the studio's latest releases. Which will -- in theory -- make going to the movies the sort of experience that moviegoers just can't have while sitting in front of their 102-inch plasma screens at home.

The only problem with that plan is that there have already been some signs that the bloom may be coming off of the Digital 3D rose ... Take -- for example -- this press release that Disney Publicity issued last month. Which trumpeted the fact that ...

The 3-D digital cinema engagements of the Walt Disney Co.'s "Meet the Robinsons" have delivered about 31% of the film's total gross, said Chuck Viane, president of Disney's Buena Vista Pictures Domestic Distribution.

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, what this press release fails to mention was that -- in spite of the fact that this Stephen J. Anderson film had been released with much hype to 581 Real D 3-D-ready digital screens around the country -- "Meet the Robinsons" 's earnings still seriously lagged behind those for Disney's first CG / Digital 3D release, "Chicken Little." That Mark Dindal movie wound up earning over $135 million during its initial domestic release, whereas "Robinsons" seems to have run out of steam at just $96 million.

Of course, digital technology all by itself can't make up for a lackluster story and/or unappealing characters. But one wonders -- given how many of the studios are now turning to gimmicks like 3D & large format (Take -- for example -- the four action scenes that Christopher Nolan is shooting for his "Batman Begins" sequel, "The Dark Knight," using IMAX cameras. So that -- in order to get the full effect of this footage -- Batman fans will have to see the next installment of this Warner Bros. franchise on a 10-story-tall screen) in an attempt to lure audiences back into theaters. So that young adult males will once again be compelled to see a motion picture more than once during its initial theatrical release ... One wonders if all this new technology will really be enough to reverse current trends ?

What about you folks ? How many of you have actually seen "Pirates of the Caribbean : At World's End" more than once in theaters ? More importantly, how many of you are opting to take a pass on "Pirates 3" at your local multiplex ? Prefering to wait 'til the DVD version of this film goes on sale in December ? And are you opting to do this out of frugality ? Or is there some other reason that you no longer enjoy seeing movies on the big screen ?

Your thoughts ?

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  • Last summer, in the midst of all the "Cars" business, there were a number of us who insisted that affordability was playing a role in that film's "under-performance," as it is getting quite expensive to take the whole family to see a movie once, let alone multiple times, and, as a result, DVD looked to be the option that many people would go for.  After all, for $20, they can own the flick and the kids can watch it all they want, versus the $50+ (tickets and concessions) that a family of four would probably pay to see it in the theatre once.  Financially, it just makes sense.

    Looks like the suits are finally realizing this as well.

  • Is this really such a mystery to the suits? Talk about not understanding your product or customers...or the economics of discretionary income.

    Maybe this will give Iger enough fuel to move forward on his plan of day and date release in theatres and pay per view, video on demand, or whatever home technology they want to support. Apply home sales towards domestic gross and you're back in business. DVD still gets released six months later with all the extras.

    Movie theatres run on the movie theatre's and sometimes the distributor's schedule. Home viewing runs on your schedule. Since March, I've been sitting on 4 free movie passes that expire in June, but so far, no releases have inspired me to put up with the hassle that is the modern movie-going experience. Besides, most families have already experienced enough piracy at the gas pumps.

  • I've actually seen POTC: At World's End twice so far and am sure I'll catch it at least once more in the theatres.   To be honest, I didn't really like it so much the first time; but by the second time around, I thoroughly enjoyed it.   Strange how different a movie can be the second time around.   However, I can understand how moviegoers wouldn't be as interested in seeing 3 as there just weren't really as many new story elements or cool characters being introduced this time around.   After Davy Jones, everything else (SPOILER: especially Calypso's slightly disappointing appearance) just pales in comparison.  

  • I've seen it twice in the theaters thus far and was prepared for a third time on Sunday until my dad got sick with a cold. Of course I saw it in the theaters so many times. I'm a Disney fan, movie fan, and pirates fan. The execs fail to realize (as you have pointed out) the appeal of a family just waiting for the DVD. No concessions, multiple tickets, or even things like hiring a sitter. Besides, the kids don't know the 6 month wait for the film on DVD anyway. As for those kids they expect to buy tickets again and again, have they seen how many movies are coming out this summer? How could anyone outside of the diehard fans even have time to go back and see it multiple times?

  • I've seen AWE 3 times so far, but I don't represent the average audience by any stretch of the imagination. Johnny and Orlando aren't draws for me- the monsters are. Aside from the opening night show, I've kept to matinees as usual. For one thing, the prices are reasonable. For POTC in particular, the film's running time makes an early show much more appealing.

  • Domestically, it is doing mediocre. Worldwide, it is doing phenomenally! It is only the second film ever to gross over $100m in its second week overseas & has become the fastest to reach $400m abroad. It is doing better than DMC in nearly every territory. It's opening in India is the 3rd biggest and is bigger than the first two's openings combined. As for why it is doing mediocre domestically...... it's because the market simply cannot hold 3 films this big this close together. What is one of the major reasons both SM3 & AWE is doing great overseas? Because Shrek the Third hasn't opened wide there yet. But to me, for three films to open within a 4-week period to gross over $900m (domestically) I think is astounding.

    As for whether I saw it already.... yes...... three times. It is my favorite of the three. There were very few parts I would have changed (most notably Tia Dalma's transformation) but overall I thought the movie was brilliant. Now there are other movies I'm going to see this summer (HP5, Evan Almighty, Ratatouille, Rush Hour 3, etc), but I'm sure I'll see this once more before it comes out on DVD. It really is the type of movie that gets better with each watching.

  • ever since i grew up and realized the value of the dollar, i've spent less money on entertainment type things. so, i do want to see a movie once in the theatre because i can't have everyone talking about it and not knowing anything about it, but, as far as seeing a movie a second time in theatres, i'd rather save my $19 for my wife and i and just wait til the dvd comes out which is usually cheaper than $19 (on sale somewhere/on-line).

  • We used to go to the movies all the time, but the cost of tickets ($6 for a matinee! $9 on a Friday night!) have kept us out of the theater, along with the fact that if we wait, we can see it in our home theater. For the cost of two tickets, I can own the movie! Most of the time, our viewing experience is more pleasurable without fighting crying babies, ringing cell phones, talking neighbors, bad projection and bad sound.

  • I saw AWE once in the theater, but a few of my friends I saw it with saw it again the next night.  I've only seen 2 movies in the theater twice ("Monsters, Inc." & "Cars").  Many years ago, it could take up to a year for a movie to be available to own, versus the 3-6 month window that we have these days.  People are less itchy to see a movie again in the theater, since they know that they'll be able to own the movie in just a few months, versus the year they used to have to wait.

  • Commercials!!!

    I go see hardly any movies at the theater anymore because I'm unwilling to spend $10 to be forcefed 20 minutes of local commercials (usually slides) followed by a few national commercials (Coke, Insurance, etc., on film), followed by trailers (which aren't so bad).  

    I can put up with (1) poor seats, (2) loud fellow theater goers, (3) cell phones going off (or the moron who keeps texting during the movie), and (4) $3 diet cokes.  But it's the commercials I really hate and that keeps me out of the theater.  

    In attempting to squeeze every last cent of profibility out of the movie going experience, they squuezed this movie goer right out of the theater.

  • We will not be seeing a lot of movies this summer.  Gas prices are high and affecting other purchases we need to make therefore unnecessary items such as movies get cut back.  Much more economical to buy/rent the DVD and watch it on my LCD HD TV.

    In my opinion the movie going experience is quickly becoming a lesser value for my dollar.

    It seems that Disney already recognizes this by trying to release DVDs much quicker than in the past; for many movies the only $$ you will get from my family is for a DVD purchase so they might as well release it on DVD quickly while their ads are still current because even if they release the DVD in a year I still will not be shelling out the cash for movie tickets.

  • Perhaps this summer is extra extra different. I mean, all these 3s coming out? People who are fans of the Pirates franchise, the Shrek franchise, the Spiderman franchise, the Rush Hour franchise...etc, they want to see all these movies. At 10 bucks a pop, you're talking about $40 or more for an entire family. Plus you have those new ones like Transformers and Ratatouille that look interesting too. That's more money you need to cough up! And the fact that all these films are being released weeks from each other...well that's too much to handle.

    So i can see why people aren't going more than once to see a film this summer...it's too expensive!!

    Once is enough...now I'll wait for the DVD.

  • I can't believe they did not see this coming! True, some places in the US have matinees and specials and $6 tickets, but I was raised with the flat fee ticket the price of which has risen to over $10! I can't afford to see a movie out of pure curiosity, and I'm single!  On top of that, there's no "penalty" for missing movies in the theaters anymore. It used to be that it would take a long, long time for a movie to come out on tape. Now, when you see an ad for movie on DVD you think, "When did that stop playing in the theaters?" They've made it too easy to simply wait for a movie to come out on DVD.

  • birdball, that is so true! I saw a commercial for some DVD today, and I was like, "What? They just came out with that movie"!

    Saved me a few bucks from going to see it at the theaters.

    Plus with services like Time Warner Cable's On Demand, I just have to wait a while until a movie is available to watch for like 3 bucks or sometimes free. Sure it takes months and months for it to appear, but if it's something like Transformers or Rush Hour 3 (movies I'm planning not to waste my money on this summer) it's a real bargain I can wait for.

    The movie theater needs to shape up or we moviegoers will just abandon it. Disney would do best to make DVDs available more quickly.

  • I've seen AWE three times.  As askmike1 says, it makes more sense the second time around.  

    Clearly, however, the expense of going to the movies is keeping many familes away (or pushing them into Walmart for the DVD).  Tickets to AWE were $9.50 each, so that's $38 for a family of four.  Add in a snack for everyone and a couple of drinks split amongst and you're looking at over $50.  Plus you can't pause the movie if the kids have to go to the bathroom, or fast forward through the commercials.  Tell me again what the value proposition is here?

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