Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Much has been written, by me and others, of the fact that there was a major paradigm (how I hate that word!) shift in radio ratings when the Personal People Meter showed up in the marketplace, replacing the old hand-written listening diaries.

Of all the issues surrounding the PPM, the greatest has been that the meters report everything they hear.  And that's not necessarily a good thing.  When a listener filled out a radio diary by hand, they had to rely on their memory to make their listing as accurate as it could be.  A listener was more inclined to write down their favorite station and not all of the stations they might have heard in the course of their daily business.

If they preferred Station A because of the music and.or personalities, that was likely the one they listed most often, with other, usually format-competitive stations, also included.  The didn't, typically, include stations with which they had only incidental contact.  Stations that they heard momentarily, while, say, in a store just did not get included, and for good reason.  These stations had no personal impact on them and had no place in their lifestyle or habits.

Now, though, with the PPM, while you wear that little listening thingie on your belt, every single encoded noise you hear gets recorded into the Arbitron database.  So what you listen to no longer matters as much as what you hear.  And, of course, that's just crap. There's a huge difference between listening and hearing and sooner or later this will all blow up and some sort of new way to measure, something like "intent of hearing," will fall inbetween the two.

Now it looks like move critics are beginning to see the same effect happening in theaters.  John Nolte wrote this at BigHollywood:

Have We Gone From Watching Movies to Just Looking At Them?

After a few weeks in theatres and a couple of reviews that have already posted here on Big Hollywood, you don’t need to read yet another write up of Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland.” If there’s anything worth adding, it would be only that from my point of view Tim Burton’s Tim Burtonny-ness has officially worn itself out: The pale protagonist, the dark, askew production design, the Danny Elfman score, the way the camera speeds forward into or away from close ups. The director is aping himself. He’s not the first, won’t be the last, and that’s not the real problem with “Alice.”

The problem is that the story is wafer thin and not at all engaging. The other problems are that none of the relationships work, Alice has no character development (she enters and exits Wonderland an annoying feminist), and other than Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen, not a single character is in the least interesting. About halfway the movie that old “Transformers 2″ feeling crept over me. The one that says, “This is like watching someone else play a video game.”

I never make box-office predictions. Sometimes, not even in my head. Over the years I’ve just been so wrong so often that it’s become a waste of brainpower. For instance, after suffering through the overwhelming punishment that was “Transformers 2,” I was sure it would tank in its second week. Who could recommend such an ordeal? Well, just about everyone. It went on to gross over $800 million worldwide.

Has something changed?

For a couple of decades now Hollywood’s tried to slip one past its customers and get ahead of word-of-mouth by spending tens of millions of dollars on advertising to gin up anticipation before dumping the film on a few thousand screens on opening weekend. This front-loading allows the studios to scoop up a ton of cash by packing in we suckers based on our excitement as opposed to what we’ve might have heard from friends and neighbors. You can’t blame the studios for that. But…

If the movie sucks, what’s supposed to occur is a dramatic second-week box office drop-off, and lately that’s not happening as often as it should.

Story-less junk like “Alice in Wonderland,” “Transformers 2,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks 2,”and “Avatar” just keep chugging right along as though they don’t suck. Which is troubling. Hollywood watches movie-going trends and if I’m spotting this, you can bet they are. And what are audiences saying?

They’re saying 3D spectacle is good enough and that there’s no need for filmmakers to put any serious time into producing a smart story, interesting characters, or sharp dialogue.

Dear Hollywood,
Just put a lot of cool, colorful shit on a huge screen for a couple hours and we will come.
Hugs & Kisses,
Your Audience

Hopefully, this is nothing more than a fad that will soon pass. Hopefully, before too many “great looking” but poorly scripted movies are past the point of no return in the production pipeline, audiences will tire of the fad, reject a few of these and wake the industry up.

At least that’s what we should be holding on to. The alternative — the idea that movies could now make money delivering only visual spectacle and nothing else is too depressing to seriously consider.

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