Occasionally there are a cluster of news items, usually at my favorite entertainment media site, Studio Briefing, that demand a series of comments. This week saw that happen and what follows is my gloss on those items. So read the linked item and then my comments.

What Goes Up Will Never Come Down

Like the cost of health care, movie ticket prices have risen consistently over the decades, and just like the new health care bill, no measures will lower the long term rise consumers will pay for either commodity. With the new higher pricing of 3D theatrical features reported here, the transformation of theaters into premium venues for enhanced experiences continues. There are several threads here.

1. Avatar cemented the public's interest in 3D films and it was confirmed by Alice in Wonderland's incredible box office. Now with even more 3D films arriving, including How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans, audiences seem to want to watch any movie that offers in-depth immersion. The higher cost of such technology is the ostensible justification for the ticket price increase, and as the article says, this is a test of what the market will bear.

2. The long-rumored demise of movie theaters in the age of digital home theaters seems dispelled as DVD and Blu-Ray discs sales remain flat or decline. I don't yet grasp why this has happened since to me, a moderately priced or even low-end system is a long term better value than theatrical showings to enjoy features. I'm not yet sold on video-on-demand which is supposed to be the next big thing in home entertainment. But theaters have found a new way to keep audiences coming to the box office for entertainment and I really am happy that the public aspect of movie consuming looks viable even if I only go for the films I absolutely must see upon their release.

The article's reference to the "DVD/home entertainment" as their core business is a reminder that for many years now, it was home video that was the most profitable revenue stream for studios-it appears we are seeing a change in public preferences-the new entertainment equation for the consumer, in the middle of a deep recession and high unemployment, is choosing premium ticket purchasing at least for their 3D movie venue. Will this lead to more high end spectacles described above that will dominate theaters, or will 3D trickle down into non-special effects-driven films?

3. The scramble to find theaters for all these new 3-D movies will only accelerate the conversion of more theaters to new technology, often with high-def digital projectors (one model of which appears at the top) downloaded via studio encryption, sort of like home video on demand. IOW, soon you'll be watching a very expensive version of home theater, rather than celluloid prints, or traditional film in your local multiplex. But as this item shows, it will be a while before digital 3-D projector arrive in sufficient numbers and so 3-D celluloid prints will be shown on traditional projectors as a stopgap until then.

4. More Than Movies: In a related story following this one, not only are feature films fighting for 3-D screen space, next month the NCAA finals will also be wedging themselves into theaters for 3-D presentations of games.

5. In concluding this item, I must say that I still don't get excited about 3-D as a real innovation. About 20 minutes or so into Avatar, I almost stopped noticing the sense of depth, or the different focal planes just seemed flat to me, like watching images in a kid's Viewmaster, thus not really truly rounded three dimensional objects. A great story, in 2D, if well photographed and edited, will always beat a mediocre or bad story in 3-D.

Posted by Alex Wainer