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FAST FORWARD: Immediate gratification

FAST FORWARD: Immediate gratification

We're in the wrong business! In its weekend debut in the US the Spider-Man movie broke every previous record, accommodating $US114 million worth of patrons' bottoms. We all thought Harry Potter's mass of mini bottoms on cinema seats was magic, but it seems the marketing muscle driving Spider-Man has signalled new benchmarks for Hollywood.

So what has changed in the distribution of movies? Naturally enough, they too have a model based on supply and demand. Demand generation was easy with Spider-Man's pre-release marketing campaign ringing up an enviable $50 million spend - obviously enough to whet the appetites of all but the most dedicated arachnaphobes.

But here's the supply thing. The newly created, huge "megaplex" cinema machines, with 20 or more screens, have been mandated by the studios to show the film at half-hour intervals.

How's that for immediate gratification? Great for the studios who, in this case, nearly recouped their expenses in the first weekend and who use first-weekend results to sell movies internationally. Great for the ravenous fans caught in the marketing web who can guarantee an early viewing.

But maybe not so great for the Hollywood channel - in this case the cinema owners. Not only is there the staggering infrastructure cost of building these entertainment edifices, there is the additional costs of dedicating so much screen inventory to a single product in such a compressed time.

The saturation marketing, plus the limitless capacity, has profoundly affected the long-term viability of films. Previously, opening weekends accounted for around 20 per cent of total box-office revenue. Now it's up to one-third. Subsequently cinema owners are missing out because they get a higher percentage of their ticket revenues later in the run.

How does this Hollywood analogy translate to the distribution of IT? Not very well I'm afraid. I'm grabbing at straws but remember the launches of Win 95 and 98 with 24-hour trading at Harvey Norman and queues long enough to satisfy even a towel-fearing Pom? And the recent Xbox launch had retail stores open at midnight, with punters desperate to pay the pre-discounted price. And while Microsoft is our only near-blockbuster phenomenon, the IT industry does have its own "Tinsel Town" celebrities. Our Bill, our Scott and our Mr Chambers all get the red carpet treatment wherever they go. And rightly so when you think of their contribution compared to pimply-faced Hayden Christensen or that no-name star the cheap Spider-Man producers hired.

So what's different? Both industries have mature and established distribution channels. Both have an understanding of the economics of supply and demand. But that's where the correlation seems to end. At the recent IDC Directions panel, I heard senior channel spokesmen talk resignedly about lack of viable margin and concerns with vendor commitment and support. And of course the current virtual withdrawal of market development and co-op funding. The IT industry is never going to be home to $50 million marketing launches - and whoever heard of saturation marketing? - but some channel support would be good. Please.

The IT industry is no longer (if ever) the environment for the satisfaction of ravenous demand. It's more about providing meat and three veg. Still, it's what we do and it's a lot more meaningful than most of the celluloid bilge screening on 21 theatres near you.

E-mail me at susan_searle@idg.com.au.


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