20th Century Thoughts? For Better Or Worse.

We are just about halfway through the month that will end at just about the halfway point of the year that will just about end the first quarter of the 21st century.  I realize there’s an awful lot of hedging in that statement, but I know my readership well enough to know that if there’s a possibility for a debate, most will take it.

But regardless of the niggly specifics, it’s to me a signpost that somehow, at times against some seemingly insurmountable odds, we’ve made it through a significant portion of the second century we’ve lived in.  And increasingly there are fewer and fewer folks in positions of media influence who seem to give anything but short shrift to what was undeniably true in the 20th century.  Eyerolls, “OK, boomer” and ghosting are apparently the orders of the day for a goodly portion of the generations that are moving into decision-making roles.  And if you’re not on board with what so many deem forward thinking, then it’s off to the glue factory with you.  Especially when those decisions are mandated by forced retirement packages that typically ensue when said forward thinking doesn’t pan out as first thought.

Which is why I get excited when there’s any sort of information that at least acknowledges that there wouldn’t be a present to take the reins of were it not for the success of the past.  Simply having enough forethought to draw inspiration from it is to me a step in the right direction.

A shining example of such inspiration comes yet again from the prolific and spot on mind of everyone’s favorite 76ers fan Evan Shapiro, who dropped yet another impressive study into his subscribers’ inboxes this morning and referenced it on his ubiquitous LinkedIn feed.  This time, he partnered with Spectrum Reach, the cable conglomerate’s division directly responsible for growing revenue with a business that is often mocked by start-ups and the “entrepreneurs” that enable them from the Netflix and Chill generations.  Yes, they are necessarily biased in why they are compiling this information.  But Shapiro isn’t, and his insights from it are, as always, a striking reminder that once you actually dig into data, you might actually learn something.

His introduction speaks volumes:


From there, he took the accurate premise that despite the noise, people still watch more broadcast and cable TV than they do streaming services.  And the broadcast sector in particular is local.  So the premise of using the Spectrum footprint, which encompasses 22 major markets including New York and Los Angeles, is sound.  And as he typically does, he uncovered some uncomfortable but undeniable truths:


The entire report is more than worth your time and modest investment; Evan even provided a way for non-subscribers to download it.  But as the “cool kids” struggle for survivial with consistently rising prices, pivoting content strategies and “alliances” amongst them which are effectively mini-versions of what we 20th century relics used to call “bundles”, it’s fascinating to see how much catch-up they’re playing with a world that already has embraced the option of choice and easier navigation.

At the other end of the spectrum (pun intended) was this announcement of a return of a studio to a distribution business they had abandoned before the 20th century ended, per this optimistic story dropped by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS yesterday:

Sony Pictures Entertainment is getting into the exhibition business. The studio behind recent films like “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” and “The Garfield Movie” has acquired the distinctive theater chain Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the companies said Wednesday. Included in the deal is the genre film festival Fantastic Fest.

Alamo Drafthouse was founded in 1997 as a single screen, family-owned repertory theater in Austin, Texas, and has grown to 35 locations in North America. It distinguished itself in the exhibition landscape with drinks, dine-in food service and a cool vibe that became a favorite of cinephiles.

For Sony, the Drafthouse acquisition is also tied into its experiences initiatives, including its Wheel of Fortune Live! Traveling tour and the Wonderverse space in Chicago. Ravi Ahuja, the president and chief operating officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment, also noted that the studio’s Crunchyroll films are particularly aligned with the interests of Drafthouse fans.

Somehow lost in translation by the AP (assuming a human indeed wrote this) was the fact that this isn’t the first time Sony has gone down this road, a point thankfully not lost on Los Angeles Times reporters Christi Carras and Ryan Faughnder:

Sony for a time owned the Loews theater chain, which is now part of AMC.

And the duo also remind exactly how far back in the 20th century Ahuja’s brainstorm actually has its roots:

In a limited sense, Sony’s acquisition of Alamo is a flashback to Hollywood’s Golden Age, when the major studios also owned and operated their own theater chains, thereby controlling production, distribution and exhibition.

This vertical integration system triggered a major antitrust case that resulted in a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively broke up the studio oligopolies. In a series of settlements known as the Paramount decrees, the studios agreed to divest their theater assets.

During the Trump administration, however, the Justice Department sunset the decrees, determining them to be out of date.

Look, I’ve been to an Alamo for a film festival and I’ll say this much, the food choices are much tastier than the drek AMC currently offers.  But the “cool vibe” is at best a personal judgement call, and $11 for a tub of truffle peppercorn popcorn and $20 for something like a HELLFIRE BURGER: Beef patty, melted hot pepper cheese, caramelized onions, blue cheese, reaper pepper mayo, toasted bun is likely way out of range for the likes of those who are impressing Ahuja with how they turn out for a live game show.  And anime fans?  I’m not sure the majority of their parents will be loading up their debit cards enough to make a difference.

There’s overwhelming data and plenty of studies that strongly suggest even a slightly hipper version of AMC isn’t drawing people into theatres any more.  Those that do show up, as so many did for BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE, show up for the MOVIE, not the vibe.  And not everything Sony has offered of late is even close to that kind of draw.  I haven’t forgotten MORBIUS, and I’d be surprised if Ahuja has.

For the record, the AP story also noted that Sony said it will continue to welcome content from all studios and distributors at the dine-in theaters.  Goody.  I’m sure the folks at Universal are giddy about that.  Those 35 theatres will definitely make a dent in their theatrical distribution plans/

But, then again, Ahuja just got a big promotion, so he probably needed to do something to justify it.  Especially as it is increasingly appearing that the likelihood they will own Paramount content is even less than any pipe dream that buying a traditional, overpriced movie chain is going to make a material difference.

I keep going back to the Alamo menu and I’m especially stunned by this stomach-churning entree:

Thin-sliced sirloin, roasted peppers, onions, mushrooms,
pepperoncinis, American cheese, toasted hoagie roll

AMERICAN cheese?!

Hey, Evan’s from Philly.  Maybe he’s got a better recipe.

Until next time…




Leave a Comment