3-D On The TV: The Impact On The Movie
I’ve really enjoyed speaking with various companies both at January’s CES and last week’s NAB about the impact that the mid-December U.S. unveiling of Avatar (subsequently rolled out to other international markets) had on their business plans. Prior to Avatar, interest by these companies’ customers was muted at best, in spite of the fact that four of the top 10 movies of 2009 were optionally shown in 3-D. After Avatar, folks were falling all over themselves to put words to their 3-D plans (as well as shelling out lots of money and devoting large percentages of staff to translating those plans into reality as quickly as possible). Amazing what more than $2B in ticket revenue, a figure that NAB President and CEO Gordon H. Smith reminded the audience of during his conference kickoff keynote last Monday, will do as a motivator, huh?
Smith’s proclamation was actually belated, considering the film had passed that threshold at the end of January after having previously snagged $1B in worldwide revenues less than three weeks after its public unveiling. In late January, Avatar had surpassed Titanic (also directed by James Cameron, of course) as the all-time worldwide revenue leader, and shortly thereafter it broke through Titanic’s domestic revenue record. Naysayers claim that these are fiscal accomplishments with an asterisk, considering that ticket prices have dramatically risen over the years; when adjusted for inflation, 1939’s Gone With The Wind remains on top by a substantial margin.
It’s similarly difficult to accurately ascertain the relative revenue impacts of 2-D and 3-D versions of a given title; restricted screen numbers work against the latter, with higher 3-D ticket prices counterbalancing the comparison. When I saw Avatar in San Luis Obispo on December 26, for example, its tickets cost ~25% higher in 3-D versus at the down-the-hallway 2-D screen; thank goodness for matinee prices combined with Fandango promotions (and I don’t even want to guess what the 4-D ticket prices were). Keep the relative ticket prices in mind when, for example, you read that ‘RealD Delivers Over 50% of Opening Weekend Domestic Gross for Twentieth Century Fox’s AVATAR‘.
Nonetheless, as my recent cover story discussed, the movie studios’ (and theaters’) reliance on 3-D for future fiscal success is indisputable. Consider, for example, that a recent study (with the qualifier that it was released by the International 3D Society) reported that since Avatar’s December 18 2009 release, 3-D versions of films have generated roughly 33% of domestic box office revenues. Avatar is perhaps obviously the primary reason for this fiscal success, but keep in mind that Clash of the Titans, How to Train Your Dragon, and Alice in Wonderland are also contributors to the $1.2 billion in U.S. ticket sales over the past four months. In targeting the living room, Fox is planning at least three distinct Avatar Blu-ray packages, with the 3-D pressing not coming out until sometime next year. And perhaps not surprisingly, a 3-D re-release of Titanic is also planned.
Although Avatar opened a lot of eyes (pun intended) to the entertainment potential of high quality 3-D, the ultimate success of the new format is not yet secured. Industry expert Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, cautions that low-quality content will, as was the case with anaglyph 3-D back in the 1950s, stunt any momentum that Avatar may have stimulated. Specifically speaking of the fact that Titans decided to catch the 3-D wave late in the title’s development by filming in 2-D and synthetically converting to 3-D in post-production (Alice chose the same approach), Katzenberg caustically commented:
We’ve seen the highest end of (3D) in "Avatar" and you have now witnessed the lowest end of it (in "Titans") You cannot do anything that is of a lower grade and a lower quality [3D] than what has just been done on "Clash of the Titans." It literally is "OK, congratulations! You just snookered the movie audience."
The act of doing it was disingenuous. We may get away with it a few times but in the long run, (moviegoers) will wake up. And the day they wake up is the day they walk away from us and we blew it.
…There are dozens of decisions literally that are about to be made or have just been made in the last 30 or 60 days and in the next 30 or 60 days, the sum of which will determine what happens to 3D…if we as an industry choose this 2D to 3D post-production conversion, it’s the end. As quickly as it got here, that’s how fast it will go away.
Conversely, if more directors and producers choose to go the high-quality Avatar route, the incremental investment may be higher but the incremental return will (hopefully) more than justify it. To wit, I thought I’d wrap up with some interesting Avatar-related editorial content that I’ve collected over the past few months.
Computer Graphics World
- Avatar Review: Yes, It Changed Everything After All
- How to Not Get a Headache During Avatar
- Unwatchable Avatar : Hollywood Greed Could Kill 3D
The Hollywood Reporter