The quote in the title of this post is from a Chip Michael’s piece from a few years ago.
It’s also something that is symptomatic about what’s wrong with comparisons between different kinds of musical genres. In the end, yes, what we’re talking about is live music played by live musicians for a live audience, but as the old adage goes, “The Devil’s in the Details.”
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to play a number of casino gigs. These are often some of the best paying gigs for musicians of any stripe and the competition for getting into a roster of acts for them can be pretty fierce.
Last night after filling in for Sweeney Todd at CenterStage here in Louisville, a few of the musicians went out for some drinks and near the end of the night I had a conversation with a family member of one of the players about her experiences working at the local casino. She was relating how there’s been a bit of a push for bringing in Younger Audiences. This is often done by a shift in entertainment.
In my previous post I talked about the minuscule returns that live audience ticket revenue gives for the total operating budget of movies. I’m going to divide this post into two parts as the first has gotten rather lengthy.
In this post I’ve summarized some of the things I brought up in the previous one, “Live audiences for Movies matter less than for Classical Music.” Then I’ll take a look at how and why Hollywood studios focus on the live audience demographic that it does and relate that to what seems to be a “holy grail” for Classical Music Crisis folks: the mythical younger audience. I’ll look at audience-creation that has become the primary marketing model for contemporary Hollywood studios after the precipitous decline in regular weekly movie-goers and how that relates to single-ticket marketing that’s becoming more prominent in the Classical Music field. The post ends with a discussion of the social costs that accompany some of this marketing strategy and its focus on younger audiences and how that relates to a lack of critical inquiry/reflection in the push to bring Classical Music into a “wider and more contemporary culture” (setting aside what’s problematic about saying that the field doesn’t already exist in it).
So, one of my birthday gifts was a copy of Edward Jay Epstein’s “The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies.” The book opens with this snippet in the intro.
There was a time around the middle of the twentieth century, when the box office numbers that were reported in newspapers were relevant to the fortunes of Hollywood: studios owned the major theater chains and made virtually all their profits from their theater ticket sales. This was a time before television sets became ubiquitous in American homes, and before movies could be made digital for DVDs and downloads.
Today, Hollywood studios are in a very different business: creating rights that can be licensed, sold, and leveraged over different platforms, including television, DVD, and video games. Box office sales no longer play nearly as important a role. And yet newspapers, as if unable to comprehend the change, continue to breathlessly report these numbers every week, often on their front pages. With few exceptions, this anachronistic ritual is what passes for reporting on the business of Hollywood.
To begin with, these numbers are misleading when used to describe what a film of studio earns. At best, they represent gross income from theater chains’ ticket sales. These chains eventually rebate about 50 percent of the sales to a distributor, which also deducts its outlay for prints and advertising (P&A). In 2007, the most recent year for which the studios have released their budget figures, P&A averaged about $40 million per title–more than was typically received from American theaters for a film in that year. The distributors also deducts a distribution fee, usually between 15 and 33 percent of the total theater receipts. Therefore, no matter how well a movie appears to fare in the box office race reported by the media, it is usually in the red at this point.
So where does the money that sustains Hollywood come from? In 2007, the major studios had combined revenues of $42.3 billion, of which about one-tenth came from American theaters; the rest came from the so-called backend, which includes DVD sales, multi-picture output deals with foreign distributors, pay-TV, and network television licensing.
I just watched the third episode of SyFy’s Z Nation, the latest Zombie Apocalypse series to follow in the wake of the popularity of AMC’s The Walking Dead. After the failed attempt by Amazon.com to bring Zombieland (a kind of rebooting of the movie of the same name) to the small screen, and the recent cancellation, after just two seasons, of BBC’s In The Flesh, you’d think the current Zombie craze is in decline.