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December 6, 2005

Robert Iger on Redirecting Disney

DisneyRobert Iger, the new CEO of Disney, is featured in an excellent interview over at The Wall Street Journal called Redirecting Disney. In it, Iger comes across as someone who definitely "gets it":

WSJ: You've previously suggested that the gap should be narrowed between a movie's theatrical release and its availability on DVD. Can you unilaterally change the DVD window?

Mr. Iger: We'd be better off as a company and an industry if we compressed that window. We could spend less money pushing the box office and get to the next window sooner where a movie has more perceived value to the consumer because it's more fresh. The problem is the theater owners threaten that if you do that, then you're not going to run your film on as many screens.

WSJ: Isn't there a way to work with the theater owners?

Mr. Iger: There are some that are interested but as you find with any industry, there are others that just want to do anything they possibly can to fight change. ... No movie studio really wants to be first because it's like going over the hill first in battle. They don't want to take the most bullets. We'll have a conversation with theater owners to see whether we can move them more peacefully. But I think in the end, it's going to have to be more by force than through negotiation or diplomacy.

One idea was to sell "Chicken Little" DVDs in the theater. So you've seen the movie and just as when you go to a play on Broadway or a concert, you can buy the DVD, that's when people are feeling best about it, and you cut the theater owner in to the video sale. But there's so much fear now about change that no one wants to sit down and have a frank discussion.

The prospect of this kind of adventurous thinking at the helm of one of the world's largest media companies is thrilling. Imagine what would happen if they took this point-of-purchase model to transmedia storytelling and started installing little shops into theaters between the arcade and the concession stand? Imagine the following scenario:

Mike has agreed to catch a movie with his friend Bobby. Bobby is a huge fan of Firefly, and so he's pushing hard to watch Serenity. Mike has never seen Firefly, but he trusts Bobby as a coolhunter, so he goes along for the ride. The movie blows him away, and on their way back to the lobby they pass by the movie shop, which is featuring the Firefly DVD box set. Still high on the excitement from the film, Mike happily goes to buy the box set, but then he notices something else.

Beside the box set is a Firefly graphic novel which bridges the TV series and the film, so Mike picks that up too. Then he notices that also on the display case is another DVD, this one of Serenity itself. Thrilled to be able to take the film home and share it with his girlfriend, Mike picks that up too – and then he notices a third DVD on the stand, which is a second Firefly movie released straight to video that picks up right where Serenity left off. As he reaches to add that to his stack, he notices something on the spine of each item: numbers. The TV series is labeled 1, the graphic novel is labeled 2, the DVD of the movie is 3, and the straight-to-DVD sequel film is 4 – and on the next display case over is a Firefly video game labeled 5 and a conventonal novel labeled 6.

Mike's mind (and his wallet) begins to reel. So many chapters! He goes to put back some of the items, then notices the big box at the top of the display case: a complete box set with all of the above labeled FIREFLY: CHAPTERS 1-6, selling for about thirty bucks cheaper than the combined cost of all the pieces. Grinning, Mike puts back everything else and makes his way to the register with the big box under his arm – the transmedia property as a single unified experience.

This scenario isn't so far-fetched – some comic shops already setting up mini-stores inside of movie theaters when big comic-based films are released, so why not make the fixture permanent and open it up to all different genres? If Mr. Iger succeeds in leading the other major studios into collapsing the DVD release window, then this kind of model will probably appear in most major theaters across the U.S. within, say, 6-9 months.

I was dubious when Mr. Iger was first announced as Eisner's successor, but if this article is any indicator of Disney's future development, the mouse may be set to roar again very, very soon. Definitely one to watch.

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