Why Hollywood is doomed

May 15, 2012

The only way the film industry can survive, according to entertainment lobbyists, is for Congress to pass a series of escalating, alphabet soup laws. I’m referring to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 and the recent attempts by the entertainment industry to push sister anti-piracy bills — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the Senate and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the House — into law. These pieces of legislation assume guilt on the part of content consumers while simultaneously erasing their rights to privacy. But, before you cast aspersions, consider that Hollywood does this to protect the industry’s ability to create jobs, art, and money. They see a shrinking box office that spells the end for their industry, and they blame piracy.

There’s one problem with all of this: “The Avengers” opening weekend ended with a record-annihilating $207 million box office total. That single weekend haul was larger than all but the largest of blockbusters’ take in their entire multi-month run. It also crushed “Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” the former all-time weekend record holder, by $38 million. To date, the “Avengers” has grossed over $1 billion worldwide.

But the threat of piracy to the U.S. economy and its ability to create jobs is a powerful narrative. This is why we’ve been bombarded with a series of bills and laws to regulate the sharing of copyrighted content online. Only legislation and penalties can punish the pirates and give the studios their deserved riches!

Well, that’s how the script from Hollywood reads.

After more than a decade of attempts to legally halt media piracy, codecs compress video files better and faster while cameras embedded in smartphones fit into ever smaller pockets. Once upon a time, there was only the relatively centralized threat of Napster. But legal attacks have forced the pirates to further decentralize. Now, Hollywood must play whack-a-mole against countless piracy Web sites.

While Hollywood blames piracy, at least for now, I put the blame squarely on texts and tweets. These days, a month-long $100 million marketing campaign culminates in a 24-hour social network frenzy. The first $10 million-worth of ticket purchasers influence the potential $90 million-worth with knee-jerk reviews broadcast via their smartphones. These viewers determine if the movie will make a profit.

Ultimately, Hollywood, here’s the secret: Make good movies. “The Avengers” is simply fantastic. It’s no surprise, since the film’s director, Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Firefly-fame), is known for making cult, ensemble TV action. His most recent film, prior to “The Avengers”, is “The Cabin in the Woods” -- still the most fun movie of 2012.

This summer, Whedon made a movie that stands tall and proud among the very best of summer blockbusters. So, Hollywood, instead of going after the piracy boogeyman, why not focus your efforts on texters who instantly alert their friends that your latest blockbuster stinks. Those are the folks hurting your bottom line. Or you could just make better movies.

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