The slump in Hollywood pictures continues. Ticket sales are off 11.5 percent from last year.
There are many thoughts on what the trouble is. Waxman of the Times reviews them:
… a failure of studio marketing, the rising price of gas, the lure of alternate entertainment, even the prevalence of commercials and pesky cellphones inside once-sacrosanct theaters. But many movie executives and industry experts are beginning to conclude that something more fundamental is at work: Too many Hollywood movies these days, they say, just are not good enough.
There is another factor that does not seem to be getting much play: the fragmentation in consumer taste and preference.
Hollywood continues to rely on the blockbuster to make its numbers…and occasionally, this miracle of consensus is forthcoming (e.g., The Wedding Crashers). But any marketer can tell you that markets are fragmenting. This must mean that blockbusters are harder and harder to manufacture. To be sure, Hollywood has always promoted “chick flicks” that could talk to men, and mature pictures that could bring in the young. But the differences of gender and age map only a relatively small part of the difference “out there.”
To make matters more difficult, TV has got better at responding to difference. Hundreds of channels, and the opportunity to leap between them instanteously, this is what responsiveness looks like in the "channel" channel. (Skipping between films in the multi-plex is just wrong somehow.) Furthermore, the relative health of the indie film industry means that there are more and more films that can be precisely targeted (Bend it like Beckham) and one or two “sleepers” that come from narrow origins to go wide.
Packaged good marketing has had the great luxury of offering multiple offerings in fragmenting channels. Hollywood is obliged to make a one size that fits all. This is not impossible, but it will take a reinvention of the filmmaker’s art and science. As I understand it, marketers in Hollywood now stand mostly for artistic compromise. They encourage market accommodation with scant regard for artistic costs.
And this is interesting to contemplate: marketers as fully committed to the success of narrative as they are to the demographic reach of the product. What business school is prepared to take this on? Where is the MBA program capable of this breadth? Let’s be honest. Existing MBA program are currently doing a terrible job preparing their students to ride the Tsunami of a dynamic contemporary culture. What makes us think they could add to this new knowledge, the ability to engage in “product innovation” (aka script development) that spoke to many audiences with both artistic engagement and marketing acuity. Because, and this is the marketer’s new lesson, it can’t work as a marketing enterprise unless it works as an artistic one.
In sum, as Hollywood struggles to respond to the challenges of contemporary culture, marketing partners must struggle, too.
Waxman, Sharon. 2005. Summer Fading, Hollywood Sees Fizzle. New York Times. August 24, 2005. here.