Film Fund-amentals: Something’s Happening Somewhere

In discussing recent political polls, a person at Elway Research summed up the current contradictory state of surveys by quoting the well-regarded think tank known as Buffalo Springfield. Yep, there sure is something strange happening here, and what it is ain’t exactly clear.

This is pretty much what we are also learning from several recently released surveys by Ipsos OTX Media CT. They recently released the results of several surveys of interest, though their presentation at TheGrill conference weeks ago has sparked the greatest movie-based interest. Less widely reported is the release of their Longitudinal Media Experience Study (better known as the LMX Study), which focuses on people’s experience with media, content and new technology. It’s not exactly film-related, but these days this stuff is all inter-related.

As everyone now knows, the big buzz was the announcement that the so-called Twitter effect does not exist. The idea that the opening box office of a film can be predicted by the amount of word-of-tweet on Twitter just ain’t so. No relationship. Nothing. Nada. No way, get outta here.

OK, actually what the survey found is that sometimes it sort of did and other times it sort of didn’t. In fact, the OTX study suggested that Facebook was a better guide to go by than Twitter, but basically the old fashioned word-of-mouth (conducted face-to-face, people-to-people) was still the only reliable form. The main thing they discovered is that people are largely impressed only by recommendations from people they really know as opposed to largely anonymous sources on a social network site. Believe it or not, folks have the sheer gall to ignore loony comments from total strangers (unless it’s someone on Facebook).

However, their LMX Study also shows that people are now spending an additional 40 minutes online and that a majority of people are spending at least 30 minutes a day at online social networking sites. Since this 30 minutes a day is a conservative base average and is already equal to (in some cases even greater than) the time many people spend with family (which is roughly estimated at 30 to 40 minutes), this is a lot of networking that supposedly doesn’t have any effect. Granted, a lot of trash talk goes on in the digital universe, but I also suspect that something more than sheer nothingness is taking place out there (though I am sure all the major discussions are taking place on Facebook).

A more interesting point made by OTX at TheGrill conference was the clear indication that movie attendance has declined by 20 percent since 2002. OK, this steep drop will only come as a surprise to the MPAA (whose own figures for this same period would suggest that attendance has grown by astronomical leaps and bounds). The long rows of empty seats at most theaters are a little hard to miss. This becomes even more interesting when added to the findings in the LMX Study showing steep increases in time spent viewing DVRs, VODs and online movie and TV media content. Add in the average amount of time people spend watching TV in general (somewhere between 4 hours a day to “ya kiddin’, there’s an off button to that box?”). Add to that the sharp increase in online viewing as well as multi-tasking while online (which sometimes means switching back and forth between Twitter, Facebook and Hulu). Then stir it all up in a blender because a lot of people are now doing all of the above simultaneously, and you can pretty much determine why movie attendance is in decline. Goodness, who has the time to go anywhere?

Furthermore, the LMX Study confirms the sharp increase in the purchase and multi-tasking use of various mobile devices (laptops, smartphones, etc.) and the equally strong rise in people’s use of these systems for content access (like movies, TV shows, etc.). So they are basically providing a solid confirmation of the notion common among many indie filmmakers about moving more aggressively in these directions. Nobody is exactly leading the way, but the audience is definitely headed into the digital universe and we simply have to run after them.

Unless you’re busy making big, bloated tent pole movies. In that case, you just have to switch to 3D to pack them in. Even before Warner panicked and yanked the next Harry Potter film out of 3D, the presumed collapse of the 3D revolution has been getting more press time than a Lindsay Lohan arrest.

Basically, from what OTX presented at TheGrill, people appear to like 3D. They just don’t want to be bothered by anything too subtle (like character or story-oriented use of the format – which oddly enough would seem to include Avatar). What they really want is to have stuff thrown at them from the screen. Pretty much the whole William Castle bag of gimmicks and cheap tricks. To be honest, I suspect that the issue is a tad more complicated than this and the structure of the survey may be flawed, but William Castle didn’t exactly go broke with his stunts.

So just throw it at ’em, baby!