Quick Clips

August 08, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Today, I will take an opportunity to follow-up on some recent ReelThoughts posts in light of various questions/comments/issues raised by readers via e-mail.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the post to generate the biggest response was "Theft of Services." Quite a few people wrote to say that the column got them to think about the relationship between advertisers, publishers, and readers on the web. Since the point of the entry was to consider advertisements as more than just irritating clutter, it served its purpose. The question was raised more than once about whether there are similarities between ad blockers (for web ads) and DVRs (to skip television commercials). Although I can see the parallel, there are important differences. Briefly, here are three… (1) There is not a direct relationship between viewership of TV ads and revenue. Ad rates are based on ratings, and (at this point) those are a measure of how many people watch the TV program. Even if you're watching "live" and not skipping commercials, you may get up to grab a snack or use the bathroom and thus miss the commercials. The entire TV advertising model is different from the one that dominates on-line advertising. Blocking an ad on a website COULD impact the publisher's revenue directly. The same is not true of television. (2) TV shows have alternate revenue streams, the most obvious of which is DVD sales. Season box sets are big business and the money brought in by them is not inconsiderable. (3) Commercials in dramatic TV shows interrupt the flow of the narrative. Using a DVR allows the program to continue almost uninterrupted, which provides for a better, more coherent overall experience. (This also is true of watching it on DVD, where there are no commercials.)

The "unwritten contract" I mentioned is meant to imply that someone who visits a website tacitly agrees to view it as the publisher has presented it. Ad blockers circumvent that. There's nothing in this "unwritten contract" about clicking on ads or anything similar. Those who click on ads do so because they want to, not because it's expected. All of this is, of course, a matter of personal choice and interpretation. There are many out there who feel that they have the right to visit as many websites as they want, block all the ads, and ignore the fact that every publisher needs to pay his or her bills. That is a valid position, but it's not mine.

I was reminded of this when I was in a theater last week and a teenager dropped an empty soda cup on the floor on his way toward the exit. As far as I could tell, it wasn't done intentionally, but he made no move to pick it up. I pointed out that he had dropped something (not knowing at that point that it was trash) and he shrugged and said the usher would get it. When I saw what it was, I picked it up and deposited it in a nearby trash can. Sure, there was nothing wrong with what he did and theaters have employees to clean up trash, but what's the harm in bending down, picking something up, and tossing it in the conveniently placed receptacle on the way out? This kind of attitude seems to be infecting society. But I have now gone further afield than I intended to.

Concerning "#1 with a Bullet," it has been pointed out that many new films with high fanboy interest debut at #1 on the IMDb Top 250, then gradually drift down the list after the initial surge of "10s" are through. Two readers also noted they had heard stories of Batman fans giving The Godfather a "1" to depress its overall total. This all seems kind of silly to me. Does anyone really care whether The Dark Knight is #1 or #2 or #10 or #50 on the IMDb Top 250? And will those who have worked so assiduously to get it there this year care about it in 12 months?

In "Requiem for a Television Show," I wondered whether Roger Ebert's posthumous tribute to Gene Siskel was available on the website archiving their video reviews. A reader sent me the link, which is available by clicking here. If you appreciated the old S&E, watching this represents 20 well-spent minutes. One wonders whether all of the Siskel and Ebert links will still be available after the television divorce is finalized. (Hopefully, they will be.)

Finally, regarding "Sinking Titanic," it's worth noting that movie-going patterns haven't changed all that much since 1997-98. Some have remarked that Titanic didn't have a big first weekend but its huge take was the result of being #1 for so many weeks. Those things are true but, as is the case today, movies in the late '90s were frontloaded and went away after a few weeks. That has been the multiplex paradigm for at least 15 years. We're not talking about the '70s or early '80s here. What Titanic accomplished was extraordinary because it was so far from the norm. And it stayed at #1 through February and March 1998 largely because of immense repeat business. The Dark Knight is showing some of the same characteristics, but the amplitude of its early box office has been much higher and it will probably not have the same longevity due in part to the time of year.