Chris Dorr's recent post on MoviePass helped me recognize the world as it truly is today. It wasn't MoviePass that I needed to recognize. It was that the same thing that allowed Independent Film to flourish is the same thing that is now spurring on innovation everywhere. Once filmmakers stopped asking for permission to tell their stories, the floodgates opened to a far more diverse approach to culture generation. To the powers that be the end of permission looks like anarchy, but to the leaders to come, this is the stepping stone to necessary change. And we are seeing that now. MoviePass, for those yet to explore it, is essentially the Netflix of Theater-going: One price for access to an all you can eat buffet. MoviePass also has made a history of getting the stakeholders seriously bent out of shape. From the onset, MoviePass did not see a requirement to ask for permission to innovate. And they got shut out by the theaters subsequently as a result. But they found a work around and sustained. Now they have found a better way, and people are getting riled up again.
The first thing that bothered people about MoviePass was that the theater owners were not consulted. Unfortunately civil behavior falls by the wayside in the charge to innovate. Remember when you had to call everyone for a group meeting? And now you just send a group email. No one wants to move slow any more. They prefer to just get it done. Since MoviePass is paying the theaters for the tickets anyway, why is it such a big deal -- particularly if more people are now going to the movies, buying more popcorn, and shelling out for parking. Doesn't everyone win?
Oftentimes we know not what we do when we step ahead in line. Where does this path of efficiency lead. Virtually all social media and online activity serves one god: the mighty one of data mining. The aggregation of all our likes, wants, connections, and routes is generating new wealth and multiple hands into our wallets. Is it really theirs to take?
James Shamus, my former partner and head honcho at Focus Features, pointed out in his recent conversation with Christine Vachon at IFP's Independent Film Week (if you didn't tune in, you can watch it here, or read FilmmakerMag's 12 Tips here):
"Every time you click — on a “like” button, or a download link — you are producing. You’re producing “exhaust data,” information about yourself that is then used to market to you and others like you. Filmmakers need to be aware of this new model. Other people are monetizing it now, but they don’t have the same relationship to film culture” as the previous generation of distributors."
Does the information about our wants, interests, and desires belong to us? Are others free to take it? Do they need to ask permission? What if they just use it, and don't display it? What if by using that information, they make our life better, or at least appear to be better? Do people care? Should they?
As evidenced by people's use of Facebook, Twitter, and many many other social media sites, I honestly don't think most people care about this sort of data mining privacy issue (which is not to say they shouldn't).
I also think many people LOVE the efficiency that comes from data mining . Honestly, if no one is now pairing film goers with discount dinner deals in the neighborhood, do we want to stop them from ever doing so? If data mining improves the value proposition of movie going, thus increasing attendance and generating wealth for the creators, their supporters, and many folks in between should we be shutting it down. Shouldn't increasing the value proposition of entertainment be something that all movie people want ?
You can count that many new services are being developed that aim to this, and I think theaters should encourage it as it will make moviegoing more enticing.
As a filmgoer, I tried MoviePass while I was still living in NYC. I shared my thoughts on the future of film business with them, and the company gave me a free trial membership. I am obviously already an avid moviegoer, but the MoviePass model increased even my attendance and reduced the value of things like Netflix. Why have a hamburger at home when you can have a filet minon in a palace. Because I felt that I had saved money, despite being tight with my cash, I coughed up for popcorn and other delights. I had about 7 theaters accessible to me that took MoviePass (prior to this new credit card thing they announced) and it got me to the theaters at least twice a week. The theaters all got paid the full price possible from my ticket — I saw that they regularly input $15 because they could.
I totally get the frustration about not being consulted, but I think Chris Dorr's article is right on: permission is not the business policy of today.
We in the film industry need to come up with ways that are not capital intensive that improve the value proposition of cinema. I think the easiest way to do that is to build more social events into movie going — audience needs to transform into community. Audiences need to be curated as much as films do. Ultimately increasing the social value and utility of movies is one of the services that film festivals play — as do community theaters.
There is huge value in community, well beyond ticket sales. As data mining demonstrates, it can generate wealth. MoviePass seems to realize that. I bet MoviePass can be moved to become a real ally of community theaters, as well as movie goers. Ultimately everyone wants to increase theater attendance — and that is the only way that I can think of that the MoviePass business model can work (and if it does, doesn't everyone win?). Filmgoers will get a better experience, theaters will sell more tickets & concessions, and MoviePass has direct access to the customers. Winwinwin. Yes?