Jeffrey Katzenberg: ‘We Blew It on 3D’

CineEurope Panel
Photo: Emilio Mayorga

Dreamworks Animation CEO reflects on future of Cinema at CineEurope

BARCELONA — Jeffrey Katzenberg may be standing down from his top job at DreamWorks Animation. He was still, however, the star at the first day of Barcelona’s CineEurope, where he talked on a panel addressing The Future of Cinema, and then showcased DreamWorks Animation movies, which excerpts from “Trolls” and “Boss Baby,” both unveiled last week at Annecy.

Katzenberg did not mince his words. “Unfortunately, we blew it on 3D,” he said.

“It was a game-changing opportunity for the industry. When you gave them an exceptional film that artistically, creativity embraced and celebrated the uniqueness of that experience, people were happy to pay the premium,” he recalled with a note of sadness, citing “Avatar,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” and “Life of Pi.”

But other producers had “taken the low-road and gimmicked it. Instantly, we lost good will.”

Some of that may be made up by “Avatar 2,’” he added.

The world had 74,561 3D screens in 2015, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory. But worldwide box office from 3D films was $7.8 billion, 20% of the total, according to analyst David Hancock, at IHS Technology.

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On a farewell tour, Katzenberg bade goodbye to CineEurope and received only its second lifetime award on Monday. Talking at the panel, however, his mind was on cinema’s future.

“Audiences have told us loud and clear, bigger is better, large format is clearly moving people because they want a bigger experience in terms of large screen, great sound, great projection” and “will pay a premium for a premium experience,” Katzenberg said.

Big screen is “not a gimmick,” he added, saying it can benefit even “small intimate movies” and citing the example of how the sports business has been able to offer a premium experience to spectators. “Attendance at sports has never been as high,” Katzenberg commented.

Whether bigger can be better for all of Europe is a moot question, however.

There’s a move towards premium large formats in cinema exhibition in the U.S. and Asia, said David Hancock, at IHS Technology.

But “In Europe, we have a different market segmentation, including arthouse cinema, which isn’t so much part of the North American market.” So Europe also needs to pursue premium small format solutions, “a feeling of exclusivity, luxury, service comfort which doesn’t necessarily revolve around a big screen.”

Held on the first day of CineEurope, The Future of Cinema round-table also inevitably took in Netflix and other digital operators.

“People who love movies, love movies. There was a piece of research [cited] at CinemaCon last year that showed that people who have the most digital devices are actually those who attend the movies the most,” said Jan Bernhardsson, CEO of the Nordic Cinema Group, the largest cinema operator in the Nordic and Baltic Regions. NCG has a subscription-based product. 70% of its clients also subscribe to Netflix.

But, Bernhardsson argued, in such a fragile business, exhibition companies should not abandon cinema release windows until they know another economic model was in place.

Katzenberg went much further, pointing out that sports, despite spiking attendance, has never been more viable on every single device.

“Protecting that [movie] theatrical experience does not succeed by denying customers access,” he said.

Panelists — who also included Odeon Cinemas’ CEO Paul Donovan and Carmike Cinemas’ David Gassman — also suggested that traditional market strategies should be re-examined, taking a leaf out of the books of digital operators and incorporating big data.

“The reason that Amazon knows better than my wife what I want on my birthday is because of big data,” said moderator Michael Gubbins, at London-based consultancy SampoMedia, suggesting bigger exhibition companies could make better use of it.

Nordisk Film and Cineplexx International founder Christian Langhammer will be honored with the Independent Film Award and International Exhibitor of the Year Award respectively. Rodolphe Buet, head of Studiocanal intl. distribution and marketing, will receive the international distributor of the year award.

CineEurope 2016 runs June 20-23 at the CCIB (Barcelona’s International Conventions Centre) and is organized in collaboration with Prometheus Global Media.

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  1. PLeahy says:

    Whilst the use of 3D has certainly been used in many pieces to enhance the cinema experience, such as within ‘Avatar’ and ‘How To Train Your Dragon,’ so many studios flaunt the 3D tag solely to draw in an unsuspecting and likely disappointing customer that its become commonplace . Not to mention standard tickets are too expensive as it is.

  2. Jesse Skeen says:

    I’ve been a 3D fan for a LONG time, but they’ve completely mishandled it this time around. The main problem is that they’re charging extra for 3D. Theater prices are already too high, and they never charged extra for it before. The last 3D movie I saw at a theater, they showed COMMERCIALS in 3D beforehand! If it really costs extra to show a movie in 3D, why not let the advertisers pick up that cost and maybe we’d be a little more tolerant of seeing their commercials? Another problem is many theaters running separate 2D showings. That simply shouldn’t happen- if a movie is made in 3D, it should be SHOWN in 3D, end of story. Don’t like 3D? Go see another movie that’s already in 2D. Because of this, we have to made sure we’re going to the “right” showing, and even more ridiculous is that after movies have been out a while, theaters will show them only in 2D even if the screen is still equipped for 3D! If they’re having less people come to the 3D showings because of the upcharge, the solution should be to DROP the upcharge, not show it in lousy 2D!

    I love watching 3D Blu-Rays at home, but of course now Disney has been pulling support for that after reeling us in when it was new. Looks like I’ll have to import their next titles- again.

  3. Don't Mind Me Now says:

    Whatever your feelings on Dreamworks Animation and Katzenberg are, you have to admit they always put on a good show when it came to 3D. The flight sequences in HTTYD and its sequel, the fight sequences in Monsters vs. Aliens, and the Spirit World in Kung Fu Panda 3 are exceptional uses of the 3D format. Dreamworks movies, at present, are the only films I make a point of watching in 3D because they commit to making the format an actual enhancement to the overall experience.

  4. Appearing Tonight says:

    Or maybe because the public just didn’t care about some immature technology and what they really want is movies that don’t suck so the leaves Hollywood out of the picture completely . . . . .

  5. jhs39 says:

    The problem wasn’t 3D being used as a gimmick–it is a gimmick. My Bloody Valentine 3D was actually one of the most enjoyable experiences I had seeing a 3D movie. It threw blood and gore and weapons into the audience–and the audience reacted with shrieks to the fun effects. The problem with 3D was that 95% of the movies that were released in 3D added no value whatsoever to the filmgoing experience. The movies were converted after the fact, the early 3D versions were horrific but the later, smoother ones offered movies that looked virtually identical to the 2D versions–so what was the point? It was just an excuse to charge a premium price and give the audience nothing in return. At one point it was so bad it was basically impossible to see movies like Pirahna and Fright Night in 2D because theater owners knew if the customer had a choice they wouldn’t waste their money on the 3D version. Hollywood killed 3D with its greed and stupidity–although the format is still very popular in China, for whatever reason.

    • Rex says:

      Agreed 100%, although I’m still a huge fan of 3D, both native and post-converted and ESPECIALLY on my home screen, where the gimmick never gets old. But I must say that, in spite of Katzenburg’s “we blew it” attitude toward the format, the very fact that a full ONE-FIFTH of the global box office is attributable to 3D is frankly spectacular. I don’t know what Hollywood was expecting from it — it IS after all a gimmick — but to have it account for 20% of the global take is something I never realized was possible. Obviously I didn’t follow the numbers, but my own uneducated guess was maybe 10 to 15 per cent, tops, so to learn it’s actually quite a bit higher is a nice relief. They should be HAPPY with that and just keep up the post conversions (and native shoots a la Avatar) on deserving titles anyway. After all, the cost of those, despite the lack of “into-the-audience” effects, has come down in the past decade, and there’s clearly a modest enough market to justify it. It was always destined to be a niche thing, just as it was in 1953 and again in 1983, but this time the niche has lasted a full DECADE and made its way into the home theatre experience as well, so I’d call that a resounding success, and proof that Hollywood didn’t blow it at all.

  6. Phillip Ayling says:

    The idea that the biz has been hurt by low-end, money-hungry and gimmicky producers would have so more impact if Katzenberg was holding mirror while he says it.

  7. John Harris says:

    It’s a long and OLD story of killing the goose. When will they learn. Luckily we have visionaries such as Ang Lee, Scorcese, etc or 3-D would be dead-er!

  8. Mark Behringer says:

    If the Hollywood crew started CREATING again, instead of licensing, maybe you’ll find people return to the theatres. WWE hasn’t put out a good creative product since 2000 and their ratings have gone down steadily for the past 16 years.

    Sometimes, a good story trumps all. But when was the last good story with magical elements that take advantage of big screen + big sound? Aliens? E.T.? Raiders of the Lost Ark?

    It’s almost like we created in the 90s, improved technology in the 90s, and coasted ever since… usually off the backs of one bad remake idea after another. Even The Force Awakens was simply a New Hope remake, with a slightly different coat of paint (to drive home all the Jewish/Nazi references that weren’t in the original trilogy, but hey, Iger owns our childhoods at this point… don’t blame the J’s, blame the locals that sold everything they owned out to them for a quick buck).

  9. It would really help the industry if the content was better, also. There have been far too many truly dreadful, big budget films. I know show business is a business; but, it also a show. A show should have some engaging, artistic, entertaining, or (God forbid!) literate aspects.

  10. therealeverton says:

    Yep, the opportunists and hacks set the whole thing back years.

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