George Lucas, who created and produced the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” trilogies, told an audience of cable executives that he’s ready to make movies for new exhibitors such as the phone company/cable operator alliances that have begun springing up in the last few weeks.
Speaking at the opening panel discussion of the National Cable TV Assn. convention here Monday, Lucas criticized the current state of the movie business as being “much too narrow. There are too few gatekeepers,” i.e., the six or seven major studios that keep commissioning movies from the same small number of players in the creative community.
But Lucas agreed when another panelist, Frank Biondi, president and CEO of Viacom Intl., said, “George will soon be able to bypass an existing network like Showtime or a typical major studio like 20th Century Fox and produce directly for a U S West and a Nynex” in their recent joint ventures with cable operators.
Biondi could also have referred to the deal announced last week by Viacom and AT&T to funnel scores of new movies to subscribers in Castro Valley, Calif., as part of a whole menu of technologically sophisticated interactive services, from two-way videogames to home shopping from department-store catalogues.
“We’re beginning to see a lot more diversification and fragmentation in the industry,” Lucas said.
One of the advantages of having new outlets, he added, is that the production cost of a movie would not have to be as high as for a “Jurassic Park,” which Lucas edited for producer-director Steven Spielberg, while Spielberg honored a commitment to direct “Schindler’s List” in Krakow, Poland.
Referring to megabudgeted movies, Lucas said, “We wouldn’t be taking the large bites of a ‘Jaws’ and a tyrannosaurus rex. We’d be taking nice, small bites.”
Although Lucas is looking on eagerly as new sources of demand spring up for original movies, another panelist, John Malone, president and CEO of Tele-Communications Inc., the biggest cable operator in the United States, sounded a note of caution. Malone said that later this year the Cable Act of 1992 could end up placing “heavy restrictions” on “horizontal integration” between cable companies and telephone companies.
On another regulatory issue raised by Jeff Greenfield, media analyst for ABC News and moderator of the panel, Chuck Dolan, chairman of Cablevision Systems Corp., the fifth-largest MSO in the country, said the 1992 Cable Act has sent out a clear signal that all cable networks, even the mass-circulation webs like ESPN, USA, CNN and Discovery, should be available to subscribers separately priced, or, as the industry puts it, a la carte.
But in a conversation after the panel session, Dolan acknowledged that the well-established networks are fighting fiercely against going a la carte because they’re afraid they’d lose millions of subscribers and thus dry up their advertising-revenue stream, which often accounts for two-thirds of a network’s cash flow.
Although Malone said last month that he wouldn’t expect the big networks to place in jeopardy the big bucks they’re harvesting from advertisers, he also said on the panel that “all of our focus groups show that the subscribers like to have control and would pay twice as much” in their monthly cable bills if they could pay only for what they watch, instead of ponying up a fixed fee for a dozen or more channels they couldn’t care less about.