oscarTonight is the Academy Awards night. Which is odd, because it’s usually around my birthday – March 24th. Do you know how annoying it is to invite people over for a birthday party and they keep wanting to turn the music off and turn the telly on? I’m emotionally scarred for life.

Anyway, this is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while.

There are a small group of cinema chains in Australia:

  • Academy
  • Hoyts
  • Greater Union, also Birch Carroll and Coyle
  • Village

In the 1980s Australia had 712 screens. This increased massively during the 90s. But nowadays sites are closing (though number of screens at each location is increasing). Multiplexes are on the increase. All over the world, cinema attendance is down 5-6% year on year. Except for over 50’s which is on the increase.

To overcome this, in Australia they are trying a few things. To be honest, I don’t quite understand the move towards very expensive “lounge room” cinemas.  You know, the Directors Suite etc. Big comfy chairs in a theatre of about 20 seats, with expensive nachos being delivered to your seat during the movie.  I mean, you’d think they’d want to differentiate themselves from ever-improving home theatre solutions. If I want comfort, junk food and a cocktail, I’ll watch a DVD at home on our big-ass Plasma screen with surround sound thank you very much. *pauses the movie* sorry, just running off for a loo break.

Ok, back now. Yeah, is replicating our lounge room at the cinema the winning solution? We’ll return to that in a moment.

monsters-vs-aliens

Anyway, Lesley White from Freshchat invited Gary Hayes and me to a preview of 3D movie Monsters and Aliens. When you think 3D, normally it’s gratuitious popping out of screen stuff. This movie quickly slipped into something more natural. Hard to describe, but it’s more like watching real life. I guess we’ve been heading more and more towards realsm ever since we added sound and then colour. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Dreamworks Animation has announced that they will be producing all movies in 3-D starting in 2009.

With the growing number of digital-cinema installations, it is now possible to project 3-D features in more theaters. Dreamworks expects that there will be several thousand 3-D capable screens by 2009

Dreamworks (wikipedia) are behind Shrek movies and so on. At the end of the previews, Gary and I asked Jeffrey Katzenberg (CEO of Dreamworks) a question. Given that the movie was like watching a virtual world game on the big screen, did he see a conversion of movies and games?  He said, yes, very much so. But didn’t go into details. But Jeffrey Katzenberg did talk about te fact that 3D cinema means no more pirated movies. After all, sitting with a video camera on your lap sneaking a version out on your disk won’t work – 3D cameras are still very expensive, plus playing it back on normal DVD/Blueray is not an option of course. But I have a question. What about the long tail of movies? I mean, isn’t more money taken through BlueRay and DVD and video sales than through the box office. Apparently they will release the 3D movies as 2D for home consumption but that seems a bit naff. If you’ve had the 3D goodness at the cinema, would you really want to watch a lesser version at home? I  mean, it’s not as if most movies have such compelling stories and acting that that alone will make up for the lack of 3D-ness is it?

So rather than these unsocial cinemas – you don’t even line up anymore chatting to get tickets or waiting for the theatre doors to open – how can we use them to share experiences? I don’t think recreating isolated lounge rooms in cinemas will get us of our own sofas. How about social network shows? I mean there are corporate events. How about an easy booking system. Anyone who can get a couple of hundred people together can book a cinema. Oh, look you can probably do it now, but is there a community site – friends lists, movies available to choose from, menus, discussion and review groups?

Playing wii in a social setting would be cool. A mass World of Warcraft. At the moment you have to have your own screen (and be the centre of it) – it would take a change in focus to be playing with a room full of people.

So I am getting quite excited by this. Combining startlingly clear digital 3D on a 200ft screen, with a live social network (all those crowds of people around you), combined with a programme that may include some passive stories, that will include some collaborative quest/gameplay and perhaps a mix of the two – now theres a reason why I would leave the computer screen or DVD movie and get down the local ‘big dark room’. The question remains though will digital cinema just continue to be a more efficient way to play those two hour films, or cleverly insert topical and local, targeted ads digitally – perhaps we will see some more personalized applications and allow rich clientele to insert their video proposal to girlfriend, snippets of family movies for the party crowd during the trailers, or how about a vote for a few YouTube films at the start from all those seated. How about cinemas becoming the place you watch the big match – why not, even the pre-TV release of Desperate Housewives and so on. Stick a set-top box next to the projector and voila – the list is endless. Digital opens doors, which cinemas will take the risk and do more than movies?

From Gary Hayes PersonalizeMedia. He pointed me to his blog post when I told him about writing this one. Strange thing is, he wrote it in 2006. I guess I am just slow 😛 

While you are watching the Academy Awards think about filling cinemas. The fact that more money is made from DVDs than box office. That cinemas have become less social not more. That we need technology to bring us together, not apart. And don’t forget to talk about what you see on the telly -the fashion, weirdo behaviour from the stars and dopey chatter from the commentators with the person next to you. Or on a backchannel on Twitter.  Cos y’know television is even more unsocial than computer games…