Will pics play in handheld world?

Confronting audience erosion, changes in exhibition technology and the need to safeguard its creative works, the film business is at a crossroads. MPAA chairman-CEO Dan Glickman writes below of the challenges and possibilities this evolution brings:

I learned about America by going to the movies, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about his boyhood in Austria. In many ways, so do all of us.

Movies expose us to political views, fashion trends, jokes, thoughts, history, arguments and so many other things that tell our collective stories and provide moments of shared experience. No other medium is so widely cited and easily woven into water-cooler talk with colleagues, cocktail conversation with friends or idle chatter at a bus stop with total strangers.

As the stories onscreen tell us about America, the industry itself reflects America’s story of progress. The movies have renewed themselves for every generation, transitioning from silent to talking picture, black and white to color, one or two-screen theaters to multiplexes with a spectrum of choices. It should be no different now.

I watched with interest and excitement the announcements by Apple and Sony that the newest iPod and PlayStation Portable would give users the opportunity to download and watch popular television series episodes and movies in the palm of their hands. And I see the investment the studios have made in online movie download sites CinemaNow and MovieLink, which represent the cutting-edge way of delivering movies to the small screen.

Still, when I go to the movies now I spend a little bit more time looking at the audience and the expressions on their faces as they see our collective stories on the bigscreen. I loved watching my grandson’s face during “Madagascar,” hearing people laugh out loud at “Wedding Crashers” and cheer on “Cinderella Man,” and seeing them grip the edge of their seats during “War of the Worlds.”

Our industry again is being challenged to ask questions about how to stay fresh as we continue to tell these stories: What do customers want and how can we deliver it? How can the theatrical experience be made more attractive? What are the best ways to capitalize on new technology? How are we going to compete in this on-demand world?

In short, what is the next evolution of the movies?

Already the leaders in our industry are responding:

n Our member companies recently invested significant resources in a new venture called Movielabs that will help generate content protection and distribution technology to pave the way for innovative new ways of delivering movies to consumers;

n We are on the cusp of a new age of digital cinema, which will redefine the term “state-of-the-art” theater;

n Theater owners are exploring new ways to serve consumers — providing bigger, better and more attractive venues and a range of new services like restaurants, games and day-care.

When I was growing up in Kansas, my brother and sister and I went to the movies almost every weekend. The local cinema was the center of Main Street. There were 25-cent Saturday specials, and even if we didn’t go see a show, my dad would send us to the theater to buy popcorn and bring it back home.

Through the years I experienced all the trends — drive-ins, 3-D horror films and the Saturday afternoon double feature. When the Beta videotape player was introduced I was so excited about the idea of watching movies at home, I was one of the first people I knew who bought one.

These days, people don’t go to the drive-in. Movies cost more than a quarter. And the days of Beta are long gone.

But with today’s movie experience I get Dolby stereo surround sound, stadium seating, a double vanilla latte and, at home, a DVD player. The movies have evolved as American society, desires and technology evolve.

The dawn of the digital age continues to change the world on an almost weekly basis. The way we communicate, connect and get information is changing. And entertainment is changing with it. In many ways it is evolving in a way that is contrary to the shared experience and increasingly toward isolation and individualization.

More and more people are taking advantage of home entertainment options — DVDs, movies on demand, Netflix — convenient ways of viewing movies in the comfort of your own home.

Americans also have more alternatives now than ever before — cable television, videogames and the Internet — all of which are tailored very much to individual experience, taste and timetables.

But going to the movies is and will continue to be one of the few opportunities for shared experience in an increasingly individualized world.

At the movies, complete strangers laugh together, feel scared together, form opinions and find moments of commonality.

I am excited about the movie industry, our capacity to evolve with the times, to reflect our progress and tell our stories.

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