From March to September 2016 the team is joined by Guest Kats Emma Perot and Mike Mireles.

From April to September 2016 the team is also joined by InternKats Eleanor Wilson and Nick Smallwood.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The changing circadian rhythm of movie theatre roll-outs

Kat readers have probably sensed for quite a while that movies are not rolled out for screening in a linear yearly fashion, 1/12th of Hollywood’s annual fare being introduced in movie theatres each month but that, rather, they  are subject to some other form of screening cycle. And indeed, such has been the case. For as long as anyone can remember, Hollywood has followed its own form of screening rhythm, so much so that one can view this practice as Hollywood’s version of a circadian rhythm. Unlike the human form of the cycle, however, the celluloid version may be about to change in ways that will affect our movie-theatre viewing behaviour in the years to come. As such, they bear attention.

First a word about the circadian rhythm. As Kat readers are aware, humans (like many other organisms), are subject to this so-called biological cycle. Consider a simple definition of a circadian rhythm from freedicionary.com:
“ A daily cycle of biological activity based on a 24-hour period and influenced by regular variations in the environment, such as the alternation of night and day.”
The overarching characteristic of a circadian rhythm is that it is both self-contained while at the same time subject to adjustment to the environment on the basis of external cues. Hollywood moguls would be surprised to learn that, for many years, they have treated the roll-out of movies in theatres over a twelve-month cycle in a manner that bears a resemblance to this. Consider the interesting observations recently made by James Surowiecki, the financial columnist for The New Yorker magazine, in his 23 February column, “Rethinking the Seasonable Strategy.”, Surowiecki describes movieland’s version of a circadian rhythm as follows:
“For decades, Hollywood’s release strategy has been governed by a simple calculus: summer is for blockbusters, the end of the year is for classy Oscar bait, and the other months are for the stuff that no one wants to see.”
The upshot is, in the words of the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners:
“Most big releases have been clustered into just five and a half months—May through mid-August, and then November and December—while the other six months of the year have been a pretty fallow period.”
When one thinks about this as a consumer, Hollywood’s circadian rhythm seems odd. Unless we are speaking about the challenge of screening movies in the face of six feet of snow in Boston, one’s desire to see a movie in a theatre would not ordinarily be driven by seasonality. True, there seems to be some data that show that moviegoers are slightly more eager to see a film in July than in January. However, citing research by Professor Liran Einav of Stanford, Surowiecki observes that our movie-viewing habits are less a function of our preference for the time of year to visit the cinema, and more the result of Hollywood’s long-held yearly cycle of clustering, at certain fixed intervals, together with inaction in offering new viewing fare at other fixed intervals during the year. Seeing a movie in January is less favoured because the film fare is less attractive. This cycle is, however, beginning to unravel. Thus the hit film “American Sniper” earned 90 million dollars in the first weekend of its release in January 2015, contrary to the view that January is a graveyard for the release of a blockbuster. More generally, Universal Pictures, small as movie studios go, has for some time adopted a strategy that the month of release of movie need not be tied to the traditional cycle because moviegoers will seek out movies in a theatre throughout the year, if only given the opportunity to do so: they point to the release date of such movies as The Mummy, Fast and the Furious, and the Bourne Ultimatum. But maybe Universal was driven to do so because of its relatively small size. More telling is the herd mentality for movie screening, as described by Professor Einav-
“If you open a blockbuster on Memorial Day and it fails, no one is going to blame you for your release strategy. If you open a potential blockbuster in February and it fails you’re going to be on the hook.”
Interesting indeed is this juxtaposition between Hollywood the creative and Hollywood the conventional. Still, this Kat has the feeling that the circadian rhythm that has described Hollywood’s release behaviour will continue to evolve in the direction of Universal’s “twelve-month ideology.” After all, the movie theatre industry several years ago underwent a change in connection with the lag period between first screening of a film in movie theatres and its first release via cable and the like. That lag has been attenuated in various circumstances, which means that movie theatres enjoy a shorter period of viewing exclusivity. In a world where devices make the possibility of movie viewing almost ubiquitous, this change seems almost inevitable. The developments described by Surowiecki will only go further in altering movie-viewing behaviour, this time in the context of the traditional movie-screening cycle.

No comments:

Subscribe to the IPKat's posts by email here

Just pop your email address into the box and click 'Subscribe':