Cinemas as police-states: why box-office revenue is in decline?

Film previews in Hollywood have long been a police-state affair: turn up at the movies, get frisked, have your valuable phone (which in turn contains your very, very valuable identity) confiscated and entrusted to a teenager earning minimum wage, and then be overtly surveilled through the course of the film.

Now the Hollywood police-state experience has come to Toronto, as James Reid discovered at last week's preview of Derailed. Viewers were wanded with metal-detectors, frisked, had their property confiscated, and so on. The thing is, these measures are becoming more common in regular screenings, too. A ticket-taker at Toronto's Paramount cinema tried to confiscate my still camera last year when he saw me taking pics of my friends in the lobby with it. Sorry, no. You can't have my $500 camera to keep until your $5 matinee is over.

It shouldn't amaze me, but it does. The thing that keeps people turning up at the cinema is the cinema experience — big screens, the companionship of others, the show of it all. Souring that show with stupid, insulting anti-piracy ads (um, why are you showing condescending, threatening ads to the people who paid money to see the movie — shouldn't you be targeting the people who don't buy tickets?) is bad enough.

But converting cinemas into airport security zones and asking ushers to act like Sky Marshals is positively suicidal. What fantasyland are MPAA executives inhabiting in which treating your customers like criminals makes them want to go on spending their money at your business?

Her phone was taken from her and put in a sealed
plastic bag with a claim ticket, and she
joined me where I was waiting, past the gate, and
we walked into the theatre together.

To add further insult to the debacle at the
gate, near the exits at stage right and left
were two uniformed security guards at each door,
all four with video cameras scanning the crowd
and making themselves very conspicuous.

This was not just a bit of pre-show MPAA theatre,
they stood there for the entirety of the movie, red
LED's glowing, scanning the crowd to remind
us that we were under close surveillance and our
actions were being recorded.

Remember the "Magic Underpants Gnomes" episode of South Park? Tweak discovers that gnomes keep stealing his underpants in the dead of night. He follows them to their underground lair and finds a mountain of underpants and a sign that explains the gnomes' business model:

  1. Collect underpants
  3. Profit!

Hollywood has taken this to heart:

  1. Sue all your former customers for their entire life's savings; treat all the remaining customers like criminals until they defect in disgust
  3. A chastened America returns to the mall!

The music industry price-fixed their CDs, focused solely on formulaic hits, refused to license music for downloads, crippled CDs with DRM, and then declared that "piracy" was responsible for its drop in sales.

Now the movie industry is chasing the same rabbit into the same wood-chipper: a raft of summer movies of great and overwhelming crappiness; insulting ads before movies and DVDs; searches and surveillance at cinemas, crippled DRMware technologies like Blu-Ray and DVD-HD; even tens of millions to be spent on a private DRM laboratory to come up with better ways of screwing people who choose not to pirate their media.

In a year or two, when studio revenue is circling the drain, will these execs look to their own greed, thuggishness or contempt for their customers when trying to explain their imminent demise? Be assured that they will not. No, these regulation-loving crybabies will spend the rest of their days whining about "piracy" and never once will any of them dare to think that people stopped going to the cinema because they resented being searched at the door.


(via Accordion Guy)