Posts filed under “Film”

Why no IMDB for Music?

TailChris Anderson’s Long Tail asks: “Why are the current generation of music services so dumb?”

That’s an interesting question, and there are some counter-intuitive answers. Chris’s frame of reference is IMDB, the fabulous site (owned by Amazon) of enormous utility to film fans.

Its no surprise that someone interested in the Long Tail would be
curious about an algorithm capable of taking mainstream (i.e., short
head) content, and using it to drive consumers toward Long Tail
(less well known) material.

There are a few possible answers to his question, and I expect they will have an impact on technology development in this space. So not only is it relevant to music fans, but its something investors and VCs may want to think about in their longer term perspective. 

Much of what IMDB does for film can be assembled — pieced together really — via many separate pages, apps and services for music. Chris is correct in noting that no single site has managed to do for music what IMDB does for Movies.

There are several reasons why this is so:

1) There is much, much more music than film; Think 30,000 new CDs per year versus a few 100 films;
2) Musical preferences are a much more personal and less communal experience than film; I’ll bet that you can take 4 archetype films, and working off of a database and user surveys, have a high probability of predicting how people will feel about a 5th film. Not so with music. (Much of the time, people will not have even heard of the 5th band);
3) The language of Film is far more accessible — even universal — than that of Music. Our modern era of Irony, since Animal House and Caddyshack, uses film quotes as a shorthand for nearly any situation we encounter.
4)  The lingua franca of Music is so much broader and deeper than film that it encourages smaller niches; Mainstream music, much more so than film, embodies the Short Head (mega hit records) and the Long Tail (lots of small but ardently followed by their fans records).

Given all that, what if we wanted to put together an IMDB – but for Music? We’d have to combine some code from each of the following sites:

Indy Custom Radio (colloborative filter radio)
Mercora Search (MP3 search)
Music Maps (genre studies)
Music Plasma (linking musical influences)
Amazon

Use the recomendation algorithm of Indy Custom Radio with the reach of Mercora; Everyone else gets used for data feeds and to refine the recommendation engine.

Chris has a somewhat different approach:

Allmusic.com (great info, but no streaming, downloading or radio)
MusicBrainz (wiki-style, no music listening)
Last.FM (incorporates audiscrobbler; just radio)
upto11 (no music listening)
Discogs (no music listening)

Also of note are music recommendation services Pandora, MusicStrands, and LivePlasma.

Its amusing to note — right on cue — where the language of Film shows up: upto11. They take their name from a terribly amusing scene in This is Spinal Tap  (when asked why their amps go up to 11: "Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?)

Of course, there was something that already  did EXACTLY what Chris wants: It was called Napster.

Not the in name only present service, but the one that allowed users to peruse other people’s hard drives, and encouraged experimental downloading of other people’s music, based on liking other music on people’s hard drive (Hey, they like A and B and C and D, also — whats this Z? — maybe I’ll like that, too).

Too bad the music industry refused to cannibalize itself when it had the opportunity. They should have put the Napster Cooption Business Model into effect while they had the chance.    

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Why is Movie Theatre Revenue Attendance Declining?

There’s been plenty of chatter about declining movie theatrical revenue attendance. You just know the MPAA is itching to tie this onto piracy somehow and thus get some favorable legislation.

Let’s nip this one in the bud, shall we? 5 6 7 factors are hurting theater attendance:

1) Social factors eroding theater environment (talking, cell phones, babies crying, etc.); 
2) Sacrificing long term relationships with theater-goers for the increase in short term profitability (commercials, no ushers, etc.);
3) Higher quality experience elsewhere (Home theater);
4) Declining quality of mainstream movies;
5) Easily available Long Tail content alternatives (Netflix, Amazon);
6) Price;
7) Demographics: Aging babyboomers simply go out to movies less.

While content quality has indeed worsened over the years, it shouldn’t be the main concern this Summer:  As of late, there have been a spate of movies which have been either well-reviewed (Batman Begins) or had good word-of-mouth (Wedding Crashers) or incredible special effects perfectly suited to the big screen (Revenge of the Sith or War of the Worlds).

So what else might be the source of declining theatrical fortunes?

Well, how about the movie theater-going experience itself? The adventure of heading to a cineplex is becoming a less and less pleasant form of entertainment. Many of the headaches involved have been painfully detailed by Bob Lefsetz’ readers (see their ordeals below).

Note that we are not even discussing content quality at this point.

Then there are the adverts. A recent L.A.Times article – Now playing: A glut of ads — points out that even studio executives were stunned by 15 minutes of commercials theatre goers had to endure after paying their 10 bucks:

"As head of production at New Line Cinema, Toby Emmerich is not your typical moviegoer. So when he wanted to see "War of the Worlds" the other night, his choice was between seeing the film in a theater with a tub of popcorn or watching it in a screening room at Jim Carrey’s house, with a private chef handling the culinary options. Despite this seemingly loaded deck, Emmerich opted for a real theater.

"I love seeing a movie with a big crowd," he says. "But I had no idea how many obnoxious ads I’d have to endure — it really drove me crazy. After sitting through about 15 minutes of ads, I turned to my wife and said, ‘Maybe we should’ve gone to Jim Carrey’s house after all.’ "

When DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press took her young twins to see "Robots" this year, she said, "My own children turned to me and said, ‘Mommy, there are too many commercials!’ Now, when the lights go halfway down, I’m filled with dread. The whole uniqueness of the moviegoing experience is being eroded by all the endless ads."  (emphasis added)

So while the industry laments piracy, consider if you will why going to the theatre has become so much less enjoyable than watching DVD films on your own big screen in the comfort of your home theatre.   

The theatres have adapted Radio’s disasterous Hamburger Helper approach: Short term increases in profitability in exchange for alienating your core audience, who eventually seek out a more enjoyable substitute. Quite frankly, I’m astonished the film industry has (contractually)
allowed theatre owners to degrade their copyright protected product by
diminishing the experience so dramatically.

As Radio has so painfully learned, the end result is a big fat Buh-bye!

To a large degree, this is  a zero sum game: The theatre chains losses are Best Buys’ gain; Is it any surprise that high quality home sound systems and large screen TV sales have gone through a ginormous growth spurt over the past 5 years? Even as the lowest common denominator productions falter, Netflix (and its rivals) allow home theater owners to enjoy a Long Tail orgy of DVD content. 

Yo, theatre owners, when a segment of retail electronics called HOME THEATRE explodes in sales, that is your wake up call. You seem to have been oblivous, and missed the bell ringing.

Good luck getting the toothepaste back in the tube!

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UPDATE: July 25, 2005 7:37pm
At Slate, Edward Jay Epstein explains the numbers behind decreased attendance on increased revenue. Fascinating stuff . . .

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UPDATE II: August 30, 2005 12:07pm
A weekend NYT article, titled Summer Fading, Hollywood Sees Fizzle quotes an exec as blaming the quality of flicks:

"Part of this is the fact that the movies may not have lived up to the
expectations of the audience, not just in this year, but in years prior," said
Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which had some flops
this summer, including the science fiction action movie "Stealth"
and the romantic comedy "Bewitched."
"Audiences have gotten smart to the marketing, and they can smell the good ones
from the bad ones at a distance."

 

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Sources:
Now Playing: A Glut Of Ads
The Big Picture
Patrick Goldstein
L. A. Times, July 12, 2005
http://www.latimes.com/business/custom/admark/la-et-goldstein12jul12,1,35978.story

Lefstz Letter
June 5, 2005
(complete sourcing below)

Summer Fading, Hollywood Sees Fizzle
By SHARON WAXMAN
NYTimes, August 24, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/24/movies/24slum.htm

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Continue to see Lefsetz’ readers critique of the theater experience . . .

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