Sunday, October 3, 2010
Sometime in the near future there will be an explosion heard only in the entertainment trades and whispered and talked about between studios, marketing executives, theater owners and DVD retailers. The FCC gave everyone permission to enter this pissing match and what a pissing match it will be.
If you ever go to the movies (and many of us do) with more than 1 person – so two people attend a film and you have a child where you needed to hire a sitter, you might not be going to the theater so quickly anymore. Well, maybe you still will. Time will tell this one. Soon, a mere 6 weeks AFTER any movie starts playing in a theater, you will be able to watch it at home in the comfort of your ‘Aunt Fay’s couch’ (nod to Steely Dan) on your nice large LCD flat panel TV. To help you To help you visualize what this means in numbers, there are about 115 million television households in the US. Approximately 100 million of them are currently cable, satellite or IPTV subscribers. Through these cable boxes (although not every one of them, only the ‘digital’ households that have a set-top box) you will be able to purchase the very same film that was JUST in the theaters 6 weeks ago on cable for $24.99 – called premium V.O.D. – video-on-demand. BUT, the movie studios will be able to activate a technology to prevent films sold through video-on-demand cable systems from being copied. This is the ruling that the FCC just allowed in May 2010 after a two year battle with the studios.
Right now, theaters get an exclusive period — 120 days (4 months vs. 6 weeks), on average — to serve up new movies. Then the releases appear on television video-on-demand services at a price of about $4.99. Now the studios want to offer us new movies on video-on-demand services about 45 days after they arrive in theaters. But, you can’t keep a copy or make a copy (your DVR, VHS or whatever won’t work). Just like a theater, once its over, its over.
So, if you are more than 2 people (+ a baby sitter), and unless you are dying to see the film on a BIG screen, I guess you might wait a few weeks.
So, what’s the big deal? For starters, the theater owners, have made it clear that releasing a movie early on video-on-demand services — thus cutting into their window — would be the equivalent of declaring war. They feel people will be more reluctant to buy movie tickets, at an average cost of almost $8, if they know they can catch the same film just a few weeks later in their living rooms, and for less money than it costs to haul the whole family to the theater. The average moviegoer spends more than $3 on popcorn and soda and the like, the cost of Friday night at the movies for a family of four can easily reach $45 – $60 — or much more in cities like New York and California.
And theater owners say this doesn’t take into account second-run and discount theaters, and that there are big exceptions: “Inception,” for instance, was still raking in millions in theaters 10 weeks after its release.
Next up, DVD retailers are fuming – Best Buy and Wal-Mart have told the studios they will retaliate against anyone who tries early-release V.O.D. because of the threat it poses to DVD sales. Huh, what DVD sales? The DVD is going the way of the CD in case anyone hasn’t noticed. Blockbuster just filed for bankruptcy. DVD sales for the year are expected to total about $9.9 billion, down 30 percent from their peak in 2004 (about $13 billion), according to Adams Media Research.
Who is the big winner here? The Studios (or so they think) because as much as 80 percent of that early V.O.D. revenue goes to them, therefore movie executives see a new way to compensate for their dwindling DVD business. And the studios are aware that consumers are growing impatient about being unable to access all movies whenever and wherever they want. An early video-on-demand option might prevent some of those frustrated customers from turning to pirated copies.
So where’s the flaw in this plan? I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, the pay-per-view business has been an anemic business since its inception on cable in 1984 when Request TV, Viewers Choice and The People’s Choice (yes, this was my company back then). Part of the problems was with the windows given to PPV movies, part was the terrible job the cable operators did to market these films to us, part was the billing mechanism (it was archaic) and part was the fact that the VHS back then and soon the DVD was simply an easier option. Not to mention you could rent the same film on VHS/DVD so much earlier than on PPV and then buy a copy to own, to watch again and again. Second problem is that you can’t keep a copy of what you fork out $24.99 for. This just begs for pirates to hack the system (and it will happen and supposedly already has). So forget the studios argument that an early video-on-demand option might prevent some of those frustrated customers from turning to pirated copies. Maybe at first, but I have no doubt pirated copies will turn up on the streets all the same – now just earlier and better quality DVD copies.
The fact you can’t keep a copy is just self-defeating. Instead, what the studios SHOULD be doing is giving everyone a ‘cloud’ storage locker for say, $ 10.00-20.00 a year. Once you pay $24.99, the film goes straight to your locker. Then, its kept there to be watched as many times as you want for as long as you keep the locker subscription current each year. Sure, pirated copies will still happen but there is a much better chance that people will be more willing to pay the $24.99 IF they can watch it over again, anytime, and on any ‘authorized’ device you own (i.e. mobile phone, Galaxy ‘Tab’, iPad, etc). Apple does great job with ‘authorized’ devices and computers.
I’m sure a studio would say ‘well, then your friends can come over and see the same film without paying for it because its in your locker’. Well, its in YOUR locker, not theirs and they can come over anyway under the present scenario. And this is the same ridiculous argument studio exec’s made in the early years of the PPV business. It didn’t stop anyone back then and only help stifle the PPV business – a misjudgment they appear are doomed to repeat once again. Will they ever learn from past mistakes?
So, will you pay $24.99 to watch a film at home you can only see one time? You might if it’s a title you don’t really care to much to see in the theaters. Would you have seen Avatar that way? NOT ME!
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Imagine opening your laptop or your hand-held anywhere you happen to be and instantly showing five full bars of muscular Wi-Fi service? Nirvana.
There would be no need to find a Starbucks, or a McDonalds, or any other place with a Wi-Fi hotspot. You’d be in a Wi-Fi hot-zone.
Current Wi-Fi technology is designed for very short-range use such as in your home, office or at the local coffee shop. Signals at the lower-end of the “white space” spectrum, or 700 megahertz, can travel long distances, muscle their way through walls and create a much larger Wi-Fi-type hot spot. It’s like bringing Wi-Fi over an entire community or city. You can skip the expensive cabling and go wireless.
A proposed Order implementing open access to the vacant TV channels in every media market nationwide will be voted on at the Federal Communication Commission’s September 23 Open Meeting. It will address the next step in its plans for unlicensed use of the TV whitespace (the portions of the TV band that are not used in a particular location to carry TV signals). It has been called ‘wi-fi on steroids’.
The regulatory move, generally supported by all five commissioners, could help alleviate pressure on mobile networks that have frustrated some smartphone users who deal with dropped calls and slow Web connections. Think AT & T in NYC.
Ironically, it was the switch from analog to digital signals by television that freed up the extra “white space.” “TV white spaces“– the radio spectrum vacated when analog television broadcasting ceased last year operates at lower frequencies and higher power than Wi-Fi, so the signals reach much wider areas than your typical wireless Internet router. New devices would be capable of transmitting the Wi-Fi signal over a potential range of several miles, rather than just hundreds of feet, would not be interrupted by walls and other obstructions, and would be as fast as today’s broadband and DSL connections.
Some benefits will provide dynamic management of the air interface, adaptations for vehicular use, computing mesh operation, inter-working with cellular systems, and peer-to-peer link establishment.
Calling the communications technology “super WiFi,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that private carriers are increasingly relying on WiFi hot spots in urban areas to pick up data traffic where their own networks are overburdened.
Genachowski’s proposal would reserve two television channels in each local market for wireless microphones. This is not sitting well with some high-tech companies that argue that priority for wireless microphones subtracts from precious airwaves that could be used for a new wave of mobile broadband devices and uses.
And the new the move faces some opposition from broadcasters, Broadway performers and ministers. Huh? What did you say?? Those critics, who have filed suit against the FCC to prevent the release of white spaces, say users of that spectrum could interfere with television channels and would throw off wireless microphones that operate on those frequencies. News and sports broadcasters, church ministers and singer Dolly Parton have argued to the FCC that they need some spectrum reserved for their wireless microphones. (Dolly, say it ain’t so?)
Operators are likely to experiment with different pricing models as they try to better manage the use of their networks. And some are doing that already with AT&T — often criticized for struggling to keep up with the demands of iPhone users — were one of the first to do away with an unlimited data plan.
“Bandwidth as an end-user service is hard to sell; it’s hard to monetize,” said Wim Sweldens, president of Alcatel-Lucent‘s wireless division. “If you go to a person and say, ‘I’ll sell you a megabyte of mobile bandwidth, how much are you willing to pay?’ nobody can answer that.”
Instead, if users are asked to buy a book or game or sporting experience on their mobile phone or an app for the iPhone or android, they understand the value, he said. Google, Microsoft and Dell have long lobbied to use white spaces. They want to use the waves to connect entire universities to the Web with wireless links that use fewer bay stations. And my hunch is that Google would love to have use of this for when they release the Chrome OS licensed to many builders of a portable tablet, due up shortly to compete with the iPad.
Dell envisions that white spaces will spawn innovations for the home. Consumers could rely on refrigerators that automatically signal the home tablet computer when food is running low, and place an order with the neighborhood grocery. Microsoft hopes to connect more of its devices to information stored on its clusters of data centers – known as cloud computing – to allow access from anywhere to applications such as its Office suite of software.
Currently, we have over 1 billion WiFi chips in every laptop in circulation, chipmakers need to develop chips that are compatible with the spectrum qualities. Then, device makers have to update their iPhones and Kindles to allow users to switch to white-space networks.
I simply want faster wireless speeds anywhere I go. I am tired of being ‘tethered’ to a broadband cable. I say, let it happen.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Is Pandora’s Box Really About to be Opened? TV of The Present and Near Future – 4 Possible Scenarios:
1. Slingbox + iPad or gPad (this is the quickest way to get your TV experience at home with ALL your channels – a ‘bridge’ solution at best as it omits the web
2. gPad or PC Tablets running android (and Googles upcoming OS, Chrome) with a receiver chip built in for wireless broadcasts (including youtube for movies , via PPV) – this can be any number of announced tablets ( Dell, etc.)
3. AppleTV + iPads with special chips + iTunes for movies and TV shows (this assumes an updated iPad version).
4. 3rd party hardware/software boxes: Logitechs Revue box (coming soon), Roku (here now), Boxee Box (coming soon), and others require you to connect these to your TV (and whatever else is there, like a DVR, cable TV box, etc). The average person will have some reluctance to doing this. And that’s most of us. They don’t call TV BROADcast for nothing – its for the masses, not just the technophiles.
All of the above solutions or alternatives will give you ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox + movies on an on-demand basis. Some will let you access Netflix or Hulu if you have an account and subscribe (read: an additional cost).
WHAT’S MISSING: your very own DVR Cloud for shows you watch and want to keep which you have purchased.
Despite Steve Jobs stating that consumers “don’t want a computer on their TV,” consumers DO want TV on their computers or more specifically on their mobile and wireless connected devices (iPads, tablets, etc.) and especially on the go. Business customers, more than consumers, especially need any of their purchases to do double-duty to make fiscal sense.
Some GPad TV reasons to exist:
Google has released an informational guide for would-be developers to create more applications specifically for Google TV. While many apps will probably be useless or purely for entertainment, there will likely be some useful programs for business consumers in the near future.
Some things worth noting are Google’s forthcoming Chrome OS: Android will be picking up Street View services in Google Maps, as well as voice-powered search so users can speak search queries rather than typing them into a keyboard or using a mouse.
Google TV will be built right in to new TVs from Sony, available on separate set-top boxes from Logitech (Revue), and those are just launch partners, with many more to come. Google has announced plans to roll out Google TV in the United States this fall, with a worldwide launch following in 2011. Google TV aims to fuse traditional television programming with Internet browsing and interactive capabilities.
Google TV will run on Intel’s Atom processor – the same chip powering virtually every netbook on the market. This enables it the additional horsepower to pump up full 1080p video, rather than 720p as the Apple TV maxes out at, it should leave room for additional upgrades, and maybe even the possibility of hacking the software to run other desktop apps (umm, now we shall see ‘jailbreaking your Google TV or gPads, I can virtually guarantee that one).
Google, meanwhile, has said nothing of opening a store for content. Every source will either come for free through the Web, from a cable box, or third-party providers. This might make the selection of popular shows smaller out of the box, but providers like Amazon on Demand, Vudu and Hulu Plus will line up to jump aboard Google TV, and it means that Google TV will be providing more content than what Apple alone can deliver- although it doesn’t mean that those same providers won’t want into the iTunes storefront as well.
To Googles point and possible advantage, Movies and TV isn’t everything. Sometimes, you want to see photos from Picasa. Sometimes, you want to give directions to a friend using Google Maps. Maybe you want to want to read your favorite site without squinting on a mobile device or watch a YouTube video. Google TV will integrate a browser based on Chrome to do all the above.
Google claims that existing Android apps should eventually be able to run on Google TV, as long as they don’t use smartphone-only features. Meaning it will be damn difficult to tilt your TV to play skillball or bowling using an app.
Dell is releasing later this year a Dell ‘Looking Glass tablet’. With larger screen Android phones and tablets coming to market in the second half of the year it only makes sense that content services will be supplying the increasing demand to watch content on these new screens and devices.
The Looking Glass is actually the big brother of the Dell Streak 5 and it comes with a 7 inch WVGA display. The tablet will run Android 2.1 on a 1 GHz nVidia T20 processor. The nVidia Tegra 2 is impressive because it is based on an ARM Cortex-A9 multicore processor design.
Other spec highlights include 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera, 512 MB ROM and 512 MB RAM, and 802.11n WiFi. Optional accessories for the Looking Glass include a 3G modem (mini card type) and a digital TV module. Expect the Looking Glass to launch in Q4 2010 on AT&T. Early renders for the device show U-Verse integration, which is AT&T’s fiber optic network.
Apple TV Reasons:
Apple recently redesigned the Apple TV to run on the same A4 processor powering the iPhone and iPad. Essentially, it’s a smartphone, without a screen, in a box.
Apple TV conveniently puts its storefront for iTunes in the middle of your living room, allowing you to buy Apple content from Apple. And hey, you can watch Netflix this year, too, YouTube and Flickr. Apple has proven to make this closed shopping experience feel cozy and convenient as in the past it has done with all of its devices and media offerings. Being a proven solution is a BIG advantage here. And Apple is so far the only ones that can say this.
Apple has got it down and has sold millions of iPhones, iTouch’s, iPads and other connected devices AND content for years now. This is not an easy trick – as it not only requires the hardware to be stupidly simple and easy to use for the masses, but its software must be self-healing and not require the ‘patches’ and the many problems we have all had with things like syncing your Outlook to a Palm or Crackberry and maintaining ALL of your information. How many of us have had problems doing this because we were running one of the many Microsoft operating system versions or incompatible updates for our MS Outlook or office.
Apple is also easing restrictions on the use of third-party development tools to create iOS app—a move that might clear the way for developers to create apps for the iPhone using Adobe Flash CS5. (Note this is not the same as letting Flash run on the iPhone.)
When Apple debuted iOS4 back in April (then called iPhone OS 4), it unveiled restrictive terms in its developer program license that prohibited developers from using third-party application development tools or middleware to create iOS applications. In an open letter later that month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Apple did not want the iOS platform to be “at the mercy” of third party development tools. Apple has not changed those provisions to permit the use of third-party development tools, so long as the applications do not download code to iOS devices. “This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need,” Apple wrote.
For the uninitiated, Slingbox is a “places shifting device.” Connect it to a video source (cable or satellite box, DVR, TV antenna, and so forth), and the Slingbox digitizes the video output for access on a wide variety of PCs and smartphones and iPhones–essentially allowing access to your home TV anywhere you can access the Internet. People prefer the benefit of mobility and they will accept just about anything – even frequently dropped calls – for the ability to have a media session (voice call, video chat, whatever) while they are wherever they are.
If you can watch whatever is on your home DVR, TV or better yet live HDTV on your iPad, wherever you are, then the broadcasting companies have lost total control of advertising as it relates to geography. This is an interesting notion (Nielsen please take note). This has huge implications. One example is sports blackouts. Often local TV stations will not carry a local team game to force local people to go to the game to see it, or a particular company owns the rights to the broadcasting and will not allow it to be shown in that area. The entire concept of locality is gone.
There are buckets of content that come through cable still unavailable from the Web. Google TV and third party hardware/software boxes connecting to cable boxes and other hardware can and does cause setup nightmares that negate all of its potential capabilities and benefits. After all – a home theater PC can already do pretty much everything Google TV will – but how many people do you know with computers under their TV sets?
All in all, its going to get very interesting in the very near future. For now, I’ll take my simple basic cable set-up, throw a slingbox in my house, download the iPhone app on my iPhone or iPad and I’m good to go anywhere. Keep it simple.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Cable TV. Its been resilient during the recession. Almost like Teflon. Will online video providers emerge as direct competitors or complements to the $69.8 billion U.S. TV subscription market? If over 88% of all the full-length TV program episodes available in the $10/mo subscription service are already freely accessible on Hulu.com. For clips, it’s almost 98%, then why would I buy a subscription to Hulu +? “Online video is not a substitute” for multichannel video programming, Comcast recently wrote in a filing to the FCC responding to complaints from competitors this month. “In addition, several impediments – technological, pricing related, and rights related – make it highly unlikely that online video will become a substitute” for such service “in the foreseeable future,” it continued.
So is cable really safe? Today, Google announced that it will jump into the pay-per-view market, via YouTube. Newer film titles would cost about $5–a bit more than the $.99 to $3.99 YouTube charges for the older films currently available in its fledgling pay-per-view catalog. Presumably, there will be some sort of integration with Google’s forthcoming Google TV platform, though details are scant. If the company does manage to roll such a service out, we’ll soon see YouTube going head-to-head with Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes, Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu–and in a big way.
Yes, Google’s got reach and numbers. Yes, they could market this probably better than most. But the cable TV business has been in this market for years. And they are terrible at marketing the service and always have been. Part of the problem has been a rights issue with Hollywood (the old ‘day and date’ issue with DVD releases). Day and date issue won’t go away either, in part because Red Box is putting too much $$ into the studios pockets and it a hedge against Netflix. However, Netflix is also putting a lot of $$ in the same pockets. And, most of us still prefer the large flat screen TV over a laptop screen any day. But one of the most fervent and least discussed impediments happens to be pay TV. The likes of HBO and they swing a very big stick. HBO gets rights to movies, and BIG titles, for many, many years. Its the ‘pay-tv’ window that keeps coming back and back and back. You see HBO has 41+ million, HBO and Cinemax U.S. subscribers (as of December 31, 2009). At an average subscription fee of $12.00 per month, that $492,000,000 million dollars PER MONTH in subscription fees. Yes, part of that goes to the cable ops for carriage, but thats still a BIG number. So, when HBO goes shopping for films and locks up movies, it does so for years. AND, those rights prevent many forms of PPV exposure, both online and terrestrial.
Which bring me back to cable TV as a whole. I recently disconnected 3 out of 4 HD boxes in my home and got rid of my last ‘extra’ tier. I have kids in the home, so luckily Nick Jr. and Disney for Kids is carried on plain the old basic tier (are you listening cable operators?). Had those two channels been on a tier that I would have to pay for, guess what? I would be buying that tier. Other than that, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are the most valuable channels to me. Why? I can’t rent tonight’s Network Television programs. I might be able to see some of them online but I’m back to my computer screen for that. The Emmy’s, Football, Baseball, The Academy Awards, local news and network news and other programs of this sort we all get for free – today. And its all delivered over cable TV.
Until I am able to transmit an online URL to my flat screen TV, Hulu +, Netflix, Google TV, Apple TV and the rest are not compelling enough to pay…$5.00 a movie or $ 10.00 a month on top of my basic cable subscription. So, yes, cable TV is fairly resistant to the recession and ‘online’ competition today. My guess is that Steve Jobs will announce a ‘rental’ service for Apple TV. And yes, others will come. But for today, cable is king.
And please don’t move Disney for Kids and Nick Jr. to another tier!
Friday, January 8, 2010
Google’s OS and Google’s Browser Chrome will further erode Microsoft’s OS dominance.
Google’s Nexus One is not an iPhone killer but what would be much more powerful and meaningful would be for Google to offer a ‘subsidized’ cell phone service through a carrier in exchange for watching ads – no more cell bills. That MIGHT make me give-up my iPhone habit.
Hulu (and other online content aggregators) lose their premium content or require a subscription fee. (Smell Comcast here?). Boxee, Roku, Sezmi and Zillion TV will have tough sledding IF Apple TV hopefully syncs a (rumored) TV subscription service with their upcoming iTablet/iSlate. Apple MIGHT offer consumers an a-la-carte menu of the best of cable and network TV on their televisions through the AppleTV box, iphones and the iTablet (along with several newspaper/magazine subscriptions) for a single monthly fee. Their version of a cable ‘triple-play’ subscription. Do you remember when cable TV was “sold” as a way to escape the ads on free, OTA broadcast TV? Those were the days…
iTunes will announce an iTunes web service, thanks to the Lala acquisition. Disney will move forward with their Keychest initiative and so will the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, or DECE. However, only one system will survive this year to avoid consumer confusion.
‘Live’ streaming video and UGV will replace the jpg /gif as the dominant content format of visual sharing online.
Facebook, Hulu, YouTube , Twitter, and other ‘weapons of mass distraction’ these days will be increasingly ‘filtered’ out from the workplace due to too much time by employees during work hours spent on ‘social media’ causing a huge traffic shift in several social networks most notably, Facebook.
Facebook will go public and the IPO will be a huge financial success until Facebook becomes the Borg unless it allows data portability. Its number of users will continue to climb until the network is as large as Google and people will confuse Facebook with “the Internet” like days of old when the internet was ‘AOL’ to many people.
And then one day…
A new social network will rise to join the big ones. It may offer the privacy that Facebook is moving away from; it may be mobile and location-centric; it may focus on personal content recommendations, but it will come and the minnows will swim like fishes to the next ‘big’ new network to be seen and heard on.
We are all ‘Paparazzi’s’ and ‘Jimmy Olsen’s’ now…with the Advent of ‘live’ broadcasting apps on the iphone and android makes paparazzi’s and Jimmy Olsen’s (instant news ‘scoops’) out of us all further diluting the worth of major news org’s that can’t be expected to be everywhere at all times.
MySpace will try to become as important to online viewers as MTV was to cable subscribers in the 80’s.
MOG and Spotify will invade the US and give iTunes(lala) and MySpace a run for their money.
Data portability will become more real, standard, expected and viable. Why isnt’ there a way for me to make 1 Avatar, use 1 password and login to store all this info in a central location that my ‘social networks’ and other internet related service use and fetch each time I access these services? Here is where I’d place all my photos and videos and then simply choose which services get access to which photos and videos. So, when I leave a social network, my ID and photos and videos LEAVE too. Go ahead and just try moving or populating another social network again with all of your pictures, comments and videos that you’ve uploaded at one time or another. Hard to do and time consuming beyond belief. It would be nice to able to take MY STUFF (and data preferences) with ME with 1 click.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
but is ‘Dancing With Smurfs’ going to be the most expensive flop ever?The story of Avatar – the new film from Titanic director James Cameron, and reputedly the most expensive ever made – will ring true to anyone who has ever felt so much as a twinge of guilt about their own carbon footprint.
It is the 22nd century and Earth has run out of its natural resources. It is now little more than a desert, without vegetation, wildlife or minerals.
But a newly discovered planet, Pandora, is a lush, exotic world which possesses everything we need, so a ruthless mining corporation hatches a plan to strip it bare and save the Earth while making billions for themselves.
Feeling blue: Computer-generated aliens in Avatar
‘To sum it up, it’s about ecology and greed,’ says Sigourney Weaver, who dyed her hair red to play a botanist in the film. ‘It took me a while to grasp what I was getting into, but then I realised no one has ever made a fantasy film like this before.’
Cameron himself is convinced cinema-goers will want to see it at least four times – hopefully quadrupling its box office potential.
‘People will see the movie because they are curious,’ he says. ‘Then they’ll go back to make sure they saw the fantastic things they thought they saw.
‘By then, they’ll be ready to see it for the third time – just to enjoy it – then a fourth time to savour the full experience.’
Certainly, the Hollywood executives who bankrolled this sci-fi juggernaut laden with 3D effects are hoping that Cameron’s optimism is well placed.
Sam Worthington morphed into Na’vi, one of the blue-deer-like creatures who populate the world of Pandora
For although the Fox studio indicates that Avatar cost around $180 million – some $30 million more than Cameron’s previous epic, Titanic – Tinseltown gossip says the true cost was a staggering $300 million, thanks to re-shoots and Cameron’s constantly changing ideas.
It’s no wonder that everyone connected with movies is waiting to see what the box office figures look like when Avatar comes out on December 18.
Some believe a movie about an alien culture of giant blue humanoids can never make a profit, while others think it will save the film industry from the threats of DVD piracy and static ticket sales.
Someone, rather unkindly, has dubbed this long, po-faced epic Dances With Smurfs, after Kevin Costner’s over-long po-faced epic Dances With Wolves.
Is Cameron’s ambitious project likely ever to recoup its investment? Titanic, which cost around $150 million to make, was forecast to be a massive flop. And the prediction, when the film came out 12 years ago, was that it was going to lose at least $60 million at the box office.
In the event, it was the most lucrative film ever released, making a staggering $1.1 billion and winning 11 Oscars to boot.
Critics may have carped about Titanic’s hackneyed storyline and saccharine sensibility, but it was a globally loved phenomenon.
Like all James Cameron films, Avatar is a huge gamble, with audiences at early previews ecstatic at the 3D technology – less enamoured of his environmentally conscious sci-fi world
It personally enriched Cameron – a five-times married movie obsessive with a reputation for throwing the shoutiest tantrums in Hollywood – by an estimated $60 million.
So why has Avatar, which has its London premiere next week, cost so much to make? It is Cameron’s first feature film since Titanic and the price tag mostly reflects the fact that he wanted to make a photo-realistic sci-fi epic film in 3-D.
There are only 37 cast members – all unknowns except for Sigourney Weaver – but there is a roll-call of thousands of digitally-created characters.
Much of the technology was created just to make the filming possible, and Cameron says his team had to invent dozens of new techno-phrases to describe the processes involved.
In fact, when he came up with the idea for Avatar 14 years ago, he was told it was an impossible dream, because the technology needed to make it come true didn’t exist.
Describing the making of Avatar as ‘computer graphics hell’, he added: ‘We were trying to create a world from scratch, working with computer generated characters that are photorealistic. That’s tough. We set the bar high.’
The project was conducted with Cameron’s customary mania for perfection, using close-up cameras so sensitive they could detect muscles moving under the skin of the actors’ faces.
Each shot was captured by up to eight cameras simultaneously and the images were then turned into aliens. The final effect is said to be so convincing that you could be looking at actors in make-up rather than digitally created beings.
And every scene had to be shot twice on 3D cameras to make the film work in three dimensions.
The film’s production designer, Rick Carter, says the created reality is vital to the success of the film.
‘The real challenge is whether you feel the emotion coming through from the characters.
When you look into those eyes, do you feel the connection is real?’
Cameron’s movie Titanic took 2.5 years to produce, cost $200m to make and took $1.8 billion worldwide to become the biggest-grossing film of all time
It was Carter’s job to create the fantasy planet Pandora, according to Cameron’s specifications. One of the many spectacular features is that the planet lights up at night.
Cameron had seen a bioluminescent world when he was deep-sea diving during the making of Titanic, and so, for added realism, hired a professor of plant physiology, Jodie Holt, to help create the plant life on Pandora, which had to be toxic to humans but support vegetation.
Another academic, Professor Paul Frommer, of the University of Southern California, was paid to create a language for the tribe of 10ft tall blue aliens, called the Na’vi, who live on Pandora.
Frommer, a linguistics expert, spent four years working on the language, and said: ‘I could have let my imagination run wild and come up with all sorts of weird sounds, but I was limited by what a human actor could actually do.’
The Na’vi language as he created it has more than 1,000 words, with a grammar of its own. The actors even had a voice coach, the renowned Carla Meyer, to help with pronunciation.
Frommer hopes it will have ‘a life of its own’ in possible prequels and sequels and that fans of Avatar may even trouble to learn it, as some Star Trek fans have studied the Klingon language. A Na’vi dictionary is already available online.
Some early scenes, such as the one where Jake wakes up as an Avatar, were shot in real sets – partially, James Cameron admits, to save money
Meanwhile, Sigourney Weaver is at pains to point out that the film will appeal to a much wider audience than sci-fi fans.
‘In its way, it is an old fashioned kind of movie but with a seamless modern technology. It is a big, swashbuckling epic romance – the sort of story that has brought audiences into the cinema for almost 100 years.’
Because humans cannot breathe on Pandora, the SecFor mining company which sets out to pillage the planet creates human-alien hybrids, called Avatars.
The hero, Jake Sully, played by Australian actor Sam Worthington, is a paraplegic former Marine who volunteers to take part, blissfully unaware of the corporation’s plans to steal Pandora’s resources.
However, Jake is accepted into the Na’vi world, and falls in love with Princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). He learns to respect the Na’vi culture, which puts him at odds with SecFor, as they gear up to assault and take over Pandora itself in a massive final battle scene.
Worthington, 30, was unknown outside Australia, where he had made a few art films. ‘I met James Cameron to discuss the film and discovered that his personal heroes weren’t actors – they were scientists. That got me hooked.’
Worthington’s take on Avatar is simplistic. ‘It’s a great film, and a story that isn’t so far-fetched because we all know that we’re bleeding our planet dry. Maybe it will make people realise that Earth needs saving from itself before it’s too late.
‘But we’re not preaching – It’s just a rattling good story.’
Some critics say it’s a ‘horrible film’ – overinflated, hard to watch and ridiculous. There are also complaints that the Na’vi just don’t work cinematically and that it’s all a shade absurd.
But Leo Barraclough, of the entertainment industry magazine Variety, says he doesn’t think such brickbats will affect its commercial appeal. ‘It is one of the most anticipated films of recent years and I don’t think it will much matter what the critics say.
‘It is 12 years since Titanic, and James Cameron is a big movie maker, so people are going to want to see it because of that.
‘Cameron is known for quality film making, with energy, intelligence and detail. Avatar has also been marketed very cleverly via the internet and tie-ins with MTV and Coca Cola and so on.’
James Cameron’s epic new 3D sci-fi adventure is the story of a distant planet, Pandora, being exploited for its precious resources, and features both live action and pioneering digital animation
More than one million people have logged on to the online trailer, and ticket presales are apparently phenomenal.
Rather unusually, Fox has sought to whet public interest in Avatar with special showings at IMAX cinemas around the world of a 16-minute extended trailer.
The marketing assault includes product tie-ins with McDonalds and the Coca-Cola Company, who are Fox’s promotional partners: Coca Cola, for example, has produced 140 million cans of Coke Zero which, when held up to a webcam, will show a helicopter taking off.
Action figures and vehicles are being made for the global market by Mattel. They all contain i-Tags which show content and info when held up to a webcam. And a video game in 3D is already on the market.
It’s all very clever, but will Avatar make its money back? Whether it’s $180 million, as the studio says, or $300 million as the grapevine has it, the film still needs to sell a lot of tickets.
To put this into context, big effects-laden movies such as Spider Man 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean cost around $150 million to make.
Fox, however, is able to stay calm about its financial exposure – because the costs have been split with two other investors. Dune Capital Management and Ingenious Film Partners are paying for about two-thirds of the production costs.
And Fox will also get a 15 per cent tax rebate from New Zealand, where all the live-action sequences and most of the effects were done, which is expected to return around $15 million.
Cameron has agreed to delay his profit participation until Fox and its investors recoup their costs. Perhaps he is so confident because Avatar will benefit from the higher ticket prices charged by 3-D theatres.
There are high hopes that it will help to continue the 3-D revolution, which is bringing audiences back into cinemas, and that it will push the sales of Blu ray discs next year when it is released.
Fox’s co-chairman Tom Rothman describes Avatar as ‘a creatively ambitious movie that is fiscally prudent’. It’s clear that he is already thinking about a sequel. ‘When you can move the popular culture, particularly with something newly created, that’s a path to tremendous success,’ he says.
Guest Post by Alison Boshoff – Thanks to the DailyMail.co.uk
Saturday, November 14, 2009
You’ll be able to go to Eagles.com (currently under construction) and get all their songs. They’re going to do it; it’s coming up in about 2 months.
And the music labels thought that the seas of music are calmer these days? Hoping to re-napster themselves and capture licensed music in a bottle this time around, the very core of the labels music is leaking and the ship might never really leave the store. The vast majority of music revenue is generated from its catalog. It sells way more than the current fare released on itunes, etc. ENTER: The copyright monster.