The Sony Nightmare

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The past several weeks have been devastating for Sony Pictures and the motion picture industry, since hackers disabled the studio’s computer system and began disclosing internal documents, e-mail messages, film budgets, executive salaries, and Social Security numbers of thousands of employees. They also illegally disseminated several Sony movies including Annie and Fury.

The ramifications of this hijacking have been nothing short of a catastrophe for Sony. Despite what social media and others are saying, one must sympathize with what the company is going through. Forget the many millions that the company will lose on their onetime holiday release The Interview, the effect this will have on the future of Sony and the untold number of lawsuits the company will be facing will result in much bigger fallout.

The industry will be weighing the decisions of Sony over the next several months and the terrible precedent of pulling a movie because of the threats of a group of hackers that the U.S. government has linked to North Korea. With theatre chains defecting en masse, Sony pulled the film from release. This was the right decision in light of the horrendous threats to cinemas and moviegoers, but one must now be realistic and expect other groups to try to curtail free speech by threatening similar actions on other films.

Sony also went a step further and decided against releasing the comedy in any form—including VOD or DVD. Again, this will be questioned by the industry. There is no right or wrong answer as to what to do, but one cannot blame Sony for looking to protect innocent people from any possible reprisals from this group of hackers or North Korea.

Whatever the motivation for Sony taking the actions it has, one must try to put oneself in the place of the executives who have been living through this nightmare since November. Pulling the plug on the movie and any other release plans is just the tip of the iceberg in what will undoubtedly be a very long and devastating period for the company. Although some may ask why a studio would green-light a movie that centers on a TV host who is recruited to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (when a fictitious country and leader might have worked just as well), you must step back and feel for the company and what is has gone through and faces in the future. This editor hopes that Sony will come out of this debacle stronger than ever and continue to make wonderful, entertaining films.

Accepting MoviePass
In 2011, MoviePass tried to build a subscription service for the movie industry that would allow people to attend a movie a day for one monthly fee. It had very limited success. The industry felt that embracing a subscription alternative would undermine traditional per-ticket pricing, the large chains and many of their content providers. Until now, MoviePass was dismissed by the industry, but with the exhibition business alarmed by a large drop in young ticket buyers, that view is changing.

This concept of a subscription service is prevalent in other industries and now a major movie theatre circuit is going to try out this service, seeking to boost attendance, especially among young moviegoers. AMC Theatres has agreed to a pilot partnership with MoviePass. Starting in January, AMC locations in Boston and Denver will begin working with MoviePass to offer monthly subscription packages for $45 and $35. More cities will be added later depending on how the test works.

Just recently, The Nielsen Company reported that moviegoing among Americans aged 12 to 24 dropped 15 percent in the first nine months of 2014, compared with the same time frame last year. In comparison, total attendance for the year is expected to be down about five percent.

Seventy-five percent of MoviePass subscribers are between the ages of 18 and 34. In a New York Times interview, MoviePass CEO Stacy Spikes declined to comment on the number of people currently subscribed to his program. He did emphasize that MoviePass members tend to spend significantly more dollars on concessions.

Many of the nation’s circuits including AMC are spending tons of money to attract this group back to their theatres with enhanced sound systems, luxury seating and experiments with marketing and ticketing.

The pilot program with AMC will allow MoviePass members to see films in any format, including IMAX and 3D, for $45 a month. Under this business model, theatres get paid full price for every admission. In order to make money, MoviePass depends on traditional subscription-service economic models in which more people buy the plan than actually use it.

This publication will watch this program closely and report back to our readers with results.

New Year’s Wishes
As we celebrate the holiday season and enter a new year, Film Journal International is very optimistic about the prospects for our industry in 2015. Yes, box office was down in 2014, but 2015 is looking like an exceptionally strong year for movies the public will be clamoring to attend. Highly anticipated pictures coming our way include Star Wars: Episode VII, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, James Bond in Spectre, the finale of the Hunger Games franchise, Minions, Mission: Impossible 5, Jurassic World, Ted 2, Tomorrowland, Fifty Shades of Grey, Magic Mike XXL and Pixar’s Inside Out. Any pundit who tells you our business is in decline is shortsighted indeed. Here’s to a robust 2015 at the box office and a happy New Year for all our readers.