A correction was made to this article on Mar. 27, 2006.
Technology has thrown the movie biz for a loop, what with digital projection, shrinking DVD windows, VOD and Web streaming shifting the financial ground, and viewers’ tastes fragmenting and coalescing.
Given the unexpected downturn in box office over the last two years, the temptation to prognosticate is ever harder to resist.
One org that heard the siren song is ScreenVision, a company that creates and books ads in movie theaters, which last week held its second Insiders Ball in New York. Idea of the forum is to be an “upfront” for ad buyers specializing in movie theaters, just the way the networks host their spring shindigs for TV ad buyers.
During the proceedings Wednesday, the most provocative comments were those from producer Joel Stillerman, a force behind MTV’s “Unplugged” series as well as “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Noticing perhaps how much media are becoming personalized and customized, he pointed to the emergence of “microbranded studios.”
By this he meant players like Participant Films and Walden Media, which each in its own way backs movies that spring from a distinctive mindset.
Stillerman also said the wealthy individuals behind them, Jeff Skoll and Philip Anschutz, respectively, not only want to make money but to pursue filmmaking from a specific personal point of view. (Participant most recently produced “Syriana” and “Good Night, and Good Luck”; Walden produced “Chronicles of Narnia” and boasts a family focus.)
None of the major Hollywood studios, other than perhaps Disney, boasts an easily definable film brand. Only Tom Freston at Viacom is steering the conglom’s individual labels toward targeting highly definable niche audiences. He may be on to something.
With marketers ever more adept at pinpointing the likes and dislikes of each of us, those companies that most clearly target one group or another may have a leg up in gaining access to their desired core niche auds. In the future, grassroots campaigns and ad buys on MySpace.com, etc., could be more effective in reaching potential auds than print ads or TV spots.
To Stillerman’s mind, it could well be more “narrowcast” movies that will be the order of the day in years to come.
Taking a different tack, Focus Features production prexy John Lyons said he foresaw “more money for more movies” as the distribution machinery around the world gets more sophisticated and the best filmmakers manage to straddle cultures and sensibilities. The race will go to those players who develop relationships with the best talent, from whatever culture or country, Lyons said.
Focus is emerging as one of the microbrands that viewers will in the future identify as delivering a specific type of movie. Mel Gibson’s Icon could be thought of as a prototype of a completely different brand.
Not that the big studios are folding their tentpoles and stealing away: Fantasy-focused films, which did gangbuster business in 2005, are hardly likely to fade, with more “Harry Potter” and “Chronicles” pics on the way.
And if execution is ever the problem (as it assuredly was for many movies last year), Entertainment Weekly VP Fred Nelson, another predictor on the panel, proffered a solution: “Just stick in a penguin. Or Dakota Fanning.”