Monday, November 28, 2011

Post-Fordism and the Family

It can be said culture, society, and economy are guiding forces in the creation of media, but it can also be said that media can act as a reality check for each of these three factors as well. One particular era that we can use as a starting point is that of the era of Ford, or Fordism. When considering the period of time in which Fordism was booming, media texts were relatively plain and simple, as well as uniform across the board. In terms of radio sets, each radio maintained the same level of frequency, regulated by the FCC, and the programs that were heard across the nation tended to focus upon the same subjects. Regarding television programming that came into the latter section of the era of Ford, let’s observe shows such as The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966) and The Brady Bunch (1969-1974). These shows presented what, for the era, were considered to be regular families. They presented the audience with the “norm.” Such programming directly reflected the industry that was prevalent at the time.

Now, during a post-Fordist industrial time, individuality and originality is emphasized as what is important and desirable. Ideas carry a higher value than do material objects and even our material possessions aspire to appear to be creative and unique. The idea of “edge” is one that is quintessentially post-Fordist in that edgy content accomplishes the task of being original, ballsy, and interesting. Much like how The Donna Reed Show was able to represent a typical family of the era of Ford, now particular television shows are striving to represent what is the modern family… literally.

One of the most likable and popular TV shows these days is Modern Family as it emphasizes the quirks and complexities of what it means to maintain a familial unit. Although Modern Family is widely accepted as safe, family-approved content, there are certain aspects of the show that can categorize the show as “edgy.” Cam and Mitchell, gay partners who have recently adopted a baby from Vietnam, make up the controversial section of the show as there have been various religious groups that have protested the glorification and permissibility of homosexuality. For many, Cam and Mitchell are viewed as simply part of a family that has its problems and not the factor that contributes to the show’s “modernity.” This demographic is surely who the show is targeted towards as well as those who don’t even take into consideration the fact that the show can, in fact, be considered “edgy.” For the homophobes out there who upload videos onto YouTube regarding the show’s “unacceptable nature,” the show’s edge is simply unforgivable.

Personally, I consider “edge” to be defined by one’s own values as opposed to one’s tastes. Shows such as Friends do not demonstrate questionable morals or controversial content (unless young children overhear risqué conversations between Joey and Chandler), yet the show does not necessarily have an edge. Just because a show does not appeal to one’s particular tastes does not make the show edgy. Edge seems to be characterized by stomach-strength and moral fiber. 

The Edge of Louie

When we think of something edgy, we think of something that is distinct. It has its own uniqueness, and while it may be comparable to other things, it has its own flavor. When looking at the most edgy media texts, people either love them or hate them. In this sense, edgy media texts often have a very focused, sometimes narrow, audience.

Cable television channels seem to be more welcoming to edgy programming than broadcast channels, simply because of the necessity of broadcast networks to gather a larger audience. It seems that most broadcast networks stick to the least edgy programming that they can find in order to attract the greatest audience possible. Many advertisers love edgy programming, because the demographic is well-known and focused to a certain type of people. Advertisers know that they won't be wasting their money.

One of the most edgy channels on television, in my opinion, is FX. Many of FX's prime time shows are created for niche audiences and have loyal followers. Examples of FX's edgy programming include Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, Louie, and Wilfred. The specific example that I am going to talk about is Louie. Louie is a show based on the life of a comedian, Louie C.K. The show basically goes into awkward and strange situations and Louie pokes fun at those situations. What makes this program edgy is the sarcastic and depressing tone to the entire series, which can make some people laugh and make some people change the channel.

Edge and Media Demographics

After reading Havens and Lotz it is clear that "edge" can be found throughout many media industries. They discuss "edge" as being media texts or genres which can clearly establish taste boundaries between different demographic groups. Using this definition of "edgy" one type of media jumps out at me, this form of media would be music. Music has many different genres but there is typically one clear demographic audience for each genre of music. This is for a few different reasons.

In the music industry there are many different genres which are usually aimed at reaching a particular audience, so the definition Havens and Lotz gives could be applied directly to this example. Different musics can be aimed directly at reaching a certain audience for a few reasons. The first way music is able to do this is by writing songs which can relate directly to the audience. Lyrics can be about topics which people within the target audience can connect with. This can be said about any type of music Rap or country music for examples connect with their audiences in this sense. For example country music more easily relates with people coming from a more rural demographic; rap music would reach a more urban audience. This is due simply to the ideas which a reflected in the music. Music industries also have age demographics, older people like different types of music than younger audiences. So music would be one type of media which depending on the genre can really be enjoyed by a certain type of audience or demographic.

Twilight is Edgy?

Curtin's article did a great job explaining how the media industry as a whole has had to shift from one focused on mass-media entertainment, to one that must acknowledge and cater to the distinctive needs of various audience groups. The concept of "edge" is crucial to understand in this shift; in Havens & Lotz' definition of the word, edge is what defines the demographic that the text is aiming to reach.

With this context in mind, "edge" in relation to content seems to refer to the distinctive features of a particular text that separate it from all other texts of similar genre and define it as belonging to a certain group or audience. Edge is the content that it is tailored to provoke identification or emotion in an audience - and it can be "edgy" because it won't provoke the same feelings from every person that comes across it, especially if the text is consumed across the boundaries of the producer's perceived audience groups. On page 197, Curtin discusses the culture industry's goal of "striving for broad exposure through multiple circuits of information and expression." These individual circuits are the unique and creative edge added to particular shows in order to "establish clear taste boundaries" that Havens and Lotz speak of.

Throughout this article, I thought of the Twilight series books and movies as an example of a media text that can be considered "edgy" by this definition. It has more than a clear target audience - every text must at least have that. However, this story line has a more unique identifying trait in a strong female protagonist who is meshed with a popular fantasy love story. These books were a gateway to an entire genre of vampire fiction, proving that an audience did in fact exist to consume this type of media. In the context of media production, Twilight certainly has an "edge," in that it discovered new boundaries of audience demographics and played on those to create both an immensely popular text and genre.

“Reed between the Lines” has Edge

“Reed between the Lines” is a relatively new television series which premiered on BET (Black Entertainment Television) that has “edge”. The show aired on a network that caters to African Americans and it is also directed, produced, and cast predominantly by African Americans. The content shown, including humor and racial issues that appear in the series is targeted to and understood by one demographic. “Reed between the Lines” has the ability to appeal and be accepted by one demographic or audience which gives it an “edge”.

The series itself is a comedy that follows a middle class African American family through the ups and downs of life. Generally speaking the series breaks many common stereotypes associated with African American families today. For example, the family lives in a very stable household with both parents present; the mother is a psychologist and the father is a stay at home dad who home-schools their children.

There are very few shows targeting African Americans that do not that portray the stereotype of the broken family living in a lower-class. I believe “Reed between the Lines” appeals to African Americans as a whole. It provides a lifestyle that the majority of African Americans are not exposed to thus it serves as something to work towards. “Reed between the Lines” also appeals to the middle and upper class African Americans because they can relate to the lifestyle and characters.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Edginess of Daniel Tosh

While reading the section about having edge the show that continually popped into my mind was Tosh.O. If there was ever a show that had edge it is this one. The idea of a show having edge is a show that has a niche audience, which means that a very select group of people that will watch it instead of a mass audience. This is great for advertisers because they are able to play very specific ads during these shows and almost all of them will accurately target the audience.

So why does Tosh.O have edge? When you think about it, it should play to a very broad audience. Daniel Tosh takes funny Youtube clips and makes jokes about them while they play for the in-studio audience. However, Tosh (or at least the character he portrays during his stand-up and his show) is unbelievably racist, sexist, homophobic, and misogynistic. As long as you take his jokes with a grain of salt (and even then it is sometimes not enough), then his jokes are funny, but not everyone understands that. This means that he has a very select audience, which Havens and Lotz call a pure demographic, gives Tosh.O serious edge.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Finding the "experience" in going to the movies

Our visit to the movie theaters allowed us to see two very different operating styles of the distributors. Both made it clear from the start that they wanted to differentiae themselves from the larger competition. I found that Studio 35 succeeded in doing so, while The Arena Grand fell short. The Arena Grand is an independent movie theater, but felt identical to an AMC, just with less movies playing. They offer specialty items in their bistro restaurant including drinks. Yet this “bistro” stunk of popcorn, so who would want to eat there and the drinks were way over priced. Going to a movie is expensive enough and while distributors make most of their money off concessions, I think in this case they were a little greedy. The hardest pill for them to swallow is the digitization of the film industry. In was clear that the company is worried about the costs that come with the new technology and are unsure if all their theaters will be prepared for the new form of film.

Studio 35 was awesome. It punctuates what Drake was trying to prove; that in a stagnate industry one must make an attempt to stand out in new ways. The bar looked like a place my Grandpa would drink and a great selection of microbrews. At the lower ticket prices customers are more willing to buy drinks. That works for them because that is clearly their main revenue stream. The seats were in a bowl, which I had never seen before. Everything there stuck me as original, and I cannot wait to go check it out again. I hate going to the movies and spending all that money on a sub-par film, but in the case of Studio 35 I am paying for an experience. Also you can order pizza and they will deliver it to you while you’re watching the move.

One thing the two theaters shared in common was their willingness to bend the rules. People don’t go to the movies like they used to, so the industry had to find new ways of creating revenue streams. The Arena Grand pockets all the cash from a private showing citing that they were just renting out the pace and not selling tickets. Studio 35 shows the Buckeye games even though they have received cease and desist orders. They need to show these games in order to cover their operating costs because they do not make enough of movies alone. Due to increased distribution costs and piracy these distributors have attempted to come up with unique and sometimes not always legal idea to attract customers. Patrons want a viewing experience that does not solely revolve around the film. Distributors who meet the needs of their specific clientele will be the ones still successful in the industry.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Experience of the Movie Theatres

As the reading said, movies theaters need to differentiate themselves from viewing movies at home. Technology has began to make this more difficult for theaters to do, so the theater will depend more on building an experience around the movie than simply offering a new movie. These days people can see movies through many different avenues almost immediately after they are released and very often for free. Depending on if the way the view the movie is illegal or not. The theaters we are visiting seem to have taken two different approaches to building an experience for the consumers. This experience has to completely make up for the high costs of the movie at the theaters since consumers can see the same basic movie at home for free. Therefore the consumers are basically paying for the experience itself, not simply the movie content.

Looking at the websites for the two theaters it is clear these two theaters Arena Grand and Studio 35 have taken two different approaches when attempting to build this experience. Arena Grand seems to be the more mainstream theater as it offers a wide variety of movies at many different times. These movies are also the more recently released movies which continues to draw in new consumers. This is also one of the most popular theater in Columbus. The other theater has had to go about building this experience in a completely different way due to the size of the theater. So Studio 35 builds this experience by providing different opportunities for the consumers. They do not have the variety of movies so consumers don't have that choice. However, Studio 35 draws people in because it is connected to a drafthouse, so consumers are able to drink while they view the movies. This is a completely different experience than most theaters these days. Studio 35 also shows older movies such as Office Space which is clearly offering something different than the other theaters who are worried about always having the most up-to-date movies.

A Trip to the Movies: An Experience

Nowadays with the technology that makes watching a movie from your couch easier than going anywhere else, movie theaters must differentiate their product by creating an experience, and not just a movie. The physical film can be watched in a number of different ways: online, on demand, illegally, or through a gaming system. Theaters have to deal with this problem today more than ever before with the changing technology and the consumers desire for immediate content. In order to deal with these phenomena, movie theaters have created more than just a movie, but an experience that is worth just as much to the consumers as seeing the film itself. Studio 35 and Arena Grand have done this in their own unique ways.

Studio 35, the oldest independent movie theater in Columbus, has coupled its business to be a theater as well as a drafthouse. This unique combination will attract a whole different audience that may not go to ordinary theaters, but choose this one for their beer tastings and interesting brews. Also, this theater re-shows popular shows that consumers have fallen in love with, for example Office Space is being shown this week during a beer tasting, so people can see a movie they love and try out a few different beers. Arena Grand has also created an experience different than normal movie theaters with a wider range of food at their bistro. Typically you can get popcorn, candy, and a soda at a movie theater, but not Arena Grand. You can get a full meal at their bistro that serves wraps, subs, salads and more. Aside from the food, Arena Grand also offers space for meetings and private screenings, a service not provided by most theaters. In the end, creating an experience that is more than just a movie is the best way for these theaters to make the greatest profit and keep consumers coming back again and again.

More than just a movie

Going to the movie has returned to being an “outing”. This change from quickly seeing a film has become an “outing” and viewers are looking for the full experience. With ticket prices higher than ever and over priced concession stand food; you can’t go to a movie without spending a good amount of money. For this reason movies and especially theatres are being looked at to provide a full experience (Drake, 64). Arena Grand Movie Theatre has transformed the experience of seeing a movie by introducing a Bistro and Bar, full of gourmet foods, beer, and wine. They promise that your “experience” will be one of pleasure and relaxation. Offering the Bistro to movie and non movie goers.

Studio 35 has taken a different approach with consumers, offering various specials to accompany their movie. For example on Sunday, November 6 they are offering a beer tasting and movie special, featuring Office Space. While both of these theatres have taken different approaches at transforming the movie theatre into an experience, they are both aiming at the same concept, creating a place where consumers want to watch a movie. Movies have become so easily accessed at home that the draw to pay for over prices movie tickets and concessions has become less and less appealing. For this reason it is the job of the movie theatres to create that one of a kind experience that competes with the comfort of ones couch and home.

Movie Theater as an Experience

Researching the two websites of the movie theaters, Arena Grand and Studio 35, reiterated the Drake reading about how going to the movies has become more of an experience. What I said in my previous post completely applies to these two theaters. Because of the price and distance, movie theaters are forced to offer more than just a movie and popcorn to entice audience members to pay to see movies in a theater. These two movie theaters have taken interesting approaches to keeping ticket sales up. The Arena Grand theater is the more mainstream of the two. It offers a wide variety of up to date movies and was voted "Best Theater" in Columbus. What entices audiences is the Bistro/Bar they have at the theater. The Bistro does not have your typical movie theater food but rather more gourmet options. Audience members can not only snack during the movies but they can do dinner and a movie all in one place. And for those of age, the Arena Grand has a bar for movie goers.

Studio 35 deems itself as a "Cinema and Drafthouse". This is an interesting take on a movie theater because on certain nights they offer beer tasting and a movie. This more independent theater is reaching out to a specific consumer group. These two theaters, although different in size and movie selection, have completely complied to the idea that going to the movies is about creating an experience for audiences. Because people can easily stay in the comfort of their homes for movie viewing, it is pertinent that movie theaters offer something unique; something that is only available at their theater. I think it would be interesting to hear from representatives at each theater to see if these added bonuses have increased sales at the theater and if they are worried for the future of the movie theater as an institution.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Utilizing Hugh Jackman for Publicity

Drake defines publicity as media coverage for which no payment by the studio is made. While a member of the marketing department essentially, it functions at a very different frequency. Instead of being handed budgets and creating campaigns, publicity looks to utilize the talent of their movie through media use. Interestingly, Drake notes that reviews, television appearances, and interviews do not usually involve a direct payment to the media, and therefore may be more trusted by audiences. Trailers, and ads for movies are clearly attempting to spin and sell something to the consumer, but a late night interview with the star in which the movie is not the sole topic can spark peoples interest in a unique way.

Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman, took full advantage of its ability to utilize film publicity. With an estimated budget of eighty million dollars, turning a profit for this action oriented film based around the simplistic theme of robot boxing seemed imperative. While the marketing campaign was certainly high budget, a similarly strong publicity campaign was happening. Hugh Jackman was pushed as the loveable character who brought depth and importance to a movie revolving around robots boxing. Jackman appeared on most late night television shows, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, and Conan O’brien. During interviews Jackman clearly was attempting to show that this film had heart, and while very Hollywood in its nature, it contained some layers. His attempts seemed valiant, he was charming, friendly, and very optimistic about the movie.

Despite excellent differential promotion efforts from Jackson and the publicity team to create a dichotomy of messages from the trailers, the film still has not grossed enough to make a profit. Currently at approximately 66 million dollars, the film had a strong opening weekend but has cooled off sense. Much of this may be due to mixed reviews and not the strong publicity campaign which utilized the television media incredibly well.

Using Marketing to offset level ticket prices

When it comes to pricing goods outside of the cinema industry, price discriminating is a huge factor in determining the cost to consumers. If you are selling a superior product or luxury item, you can increase the price because people will be will to pay more for the quality. If you are selling a cheaply made good, you have to change less because it not worth the money to consumers. When it comes to the movie industry all ticket prices are equal. Whether a films budget was over 200 million dollars with an Oscar winning scrip and big name actors or a simply shot on a camcorder and edited using an ipad, the cost at the box office is the same.

The article uses Spider-Man as an example often as a big blockbuster with a massive marketing budget. This film had high price actors, digitally laborious special effects, and needed filming permits in NYC which are not inexpensive. These are high sunk costs. Thus to turn a profit it was necessary to have a large marketing budget to ensure the films success (i.e. you need to spend money to make money). By launching a wide scale marketing approach that encompassed TV, print media, food industries, press appearances, ect. Producers were able to get the word out about the film. The article points out that a strong showing at the box office makes up only 15% of the films total revenue, that 15% sets the tone for the ancillary profits. Spider-Man dominated at the box office and thus kids wanted the DVD’s and merchandise that came with it. Also, due to it’s success sequels were put into production, which are producers safest bets for profits. After reading this article it is clear why some super heroes get sequels and it is because they are simply more marketable.

On the flip side a movie like My Big Fat Greek Wedding the chances of a net loss were slim. They had little to no marketing budget to speak of. Their distribution costs were low because it slowly spread across the country. Advertisement for the film was through word of mouth. Since the film was mostly unknown at the start, moviegoers may have been apprehensive about spending the nine dollars for a ticket; but if their friend recommends the movie that is better advertisement that any TV spot. A consumer is much more likely to trust their friend opinion than a flashy trailer. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the largest grossing independent film of all time. To conclude, a movie does not need a ton of marketing to be successful, but if a significant investment has been made towards a film a marketing plan is necessary to protect those investments.

Risky Business

As Drake explains in this article the movie industry is a risky business. As he states, “Cinemagoing can therefore be considered a risky activity for consumers in that they are buying a product based upon a promise of a pleasurable experience, and risky for film financers in that they cannot guarantee demand for a particular film and cannot alter ticket price based on supply and demand.” Most people including myself thought every movie was making millions and millions of dollars in revenue. The economic models in the film industry are far more complex than most people think. Financers and investors have to take huge risks when backing a movie. They hope the demand for the movie is high enough so the financier will make money in the end, and not the other way around.

One aspect of film revenues is that it is “streamed across a lengthy period of time.” Over the last two decades DVD and the consolidation of videos are now the highest revenue earners for the movies, compared to the first week on the box office. This means that the economic models are shifting, because the change in technology more people are now viewing the movie at home or buying the DVD at a later time. Ticket sales have gone down in recent years. Consequently one key way to produce more revenue is through marketing and advertising. If the advertiser and marketer can keep the buzz around a movie for a longer time the revenues will increase. As Drake states, “Marketing is therefore a key means for the industry to establish product recognition and differentiation, and attempt to reduce these risks by highlighting the marketable elements prior to a film’s release.” The more people that know about the movie, and the more positive press can only result in higher revenues. As the economic models are changing, and as we shift to an age of digitization the movie industry is changing how to bring in profit. With a new age of social media, people in the movie industry are finding more ways to advertise. The reach of advertising today, is far greater than it was ten years ago. As we movie into the future, the film industry is going to have to adapt a new way to market a movie as well as keeping the money coming in.

Movie Theatre Experience

"Admission might buy the social experience of cinemagoing rather than to see a particular film" as a peculiarity of Hollywood films is a very interesting and relevant one to how I view going to movies. One of the greatest things about the movie theater and what they thrive on the most is the experience created for the audience. Buying a ticket, sitting in a comfortable chair staring at a big screen with popcorn and candy. For my entire life going to the movies has been seen as a treat. Something that does not happen all the time and when it does you splurge. But this has positive and negative affects on the movie industry.

The experience people have at a movie theatre is important but the main part of the experience is the actual movie. If an audience is not excited to see a movie than that experience is shot. That is were the importance of marketing comes in. Without a team of marketers, like Kacey Hagler, audiences would be more content (than they already are) to stay in the comfort of their homes for their movie viewing experience. But marketing gets an audience exciting to not only see a movie but to see a movie in the movie theatre. Their job is to make it seem like the movie theatre is the best place to see their movie. It is apparent that there is a interconnected relationship between how the marketing team can positively and negatively affect the turn out of an audience to a movie theatre. I am looking forward to learning from the managers at the movie theatre their take on this relationship.

The Risky Nature of Film Revenues

As Drake points out in his outline of the five peculiarities of Hollywood films, the revenues are spread out over a long period of time - and for most films, are in a sense never ending. While this seems like a positive, there are also some reasons that Drake chose to include this fact in his section on the risky nature of filmmaking and distribution. One negative aspect is that all of the money spent on a production, large or small, will not necessarily be recouped during opening weekend in theaters, or even during the movies full domestic release. Many movies (such as big budget movies like Transformers 3) rely on the overseas sales to break even and actually make money on the film. Additionally, there are more down-the-road money makers for movies, including DVD sales, movie memorabilia, and royalties for cable and broadcast television spots. The problem with these sources of revenue are 1.) they are extremely difficult to quantify in the pre-production phase of a movie, when all of the upfront money is paid, and 2.) many of these profits come months, even years after the release of the movie. The above reasons characterize why the revenue stream of a Hollywood film contributes to the risky nature of the film industry, and was thus included in Drake's list.
Movie marketing can certainly help reduce the risk that the longevity and variable nature of profits entails. By Building a fan base through advertisements and marketing, a producer can increase his/her confidence in the money that will be recouped through not only ticket sales in the first couple months after the movie's release, but through merchandise sales, DVD sales, television royalties, and more. Advertising and marketing makes the film less of a risk because it helps bring more in more consumers who will decide to spend their money on that film. Additionally, as Drake points out, the marketing can be catered towards each specific film, emphasizing the star cast, the popular and promotable topic, and so on to help the movie producers to get the best bang for their buck.

While theatre differ in ticket prices the movies offered within the theatres do not alter. An Indy film costs just as much as a blockbuster to the excited movie go-er. For this reason the filmmakers play a gamble – they are either about to far exceed their budget in ticket sales or not make enough to compensate for their spending’s. On of the five peculiarities of Hollywood films are in fact that all ticket prices are the same despite the cost of films.

This peculiarity can be a good thing because the first weekend for blockbuster hits is such an attraction for people that millions flock to the movies, ultimately resulting in huge ticket sales for the filmmakers. On the other side smaller (cheaper) films do not initially draw the audiences in so their money is made more gradually (if at all) over time. In these cases the risk of peculiarity is diminished. But it cannot happen without marketing. Marketing for movies are the reasons why individuals know to go to the movies in the first place. Where they are marketed and how makes a big difference for the viewers, for some movies their trailers are on television every other commercial. While some have merchandise that attracts the audiences. In the end it doesn’t matter what brings the masses to the theatres – filmmakers are just glad they came and paid for their ticket. Ultimately that money will help offset the cost for the film.