The NY Times does it again…

Since it makes for an entertaining comparison,  I will post the email exchange here for the NY Times email interviews that I do.

 

This is a previous interview experience with the Times.

This is the column Randall Stross wrote for this Sunday. Proving the editorial standards of the NYTimes havent improved.

This is the email exchange:

> >From: Randy Stross/NYT/New York Times [mailto:ddomain@nytimes.com]

> >Sent: Wednesday, December 14, 2005 11:44 PM

I am preparing a Digital Domain column for this Sunday’s paper that features Mark Cuban and 2929 Entertainment. I am writing to see if Mr. Cuban would be free to chat by phone for twenty minutes tomorrow (Thursday) to permit me to obtain his most recent thoughts on his all-digital strategy. I see the great prospects for HDTV, but only dim ones for the theatrical exhibition business——even with 4K digital projection. I did listen to Mr. Cuban’s talk at Digimart in September but am open to hearing updates, elaborations, and adjustments.

I’m afraid time is very short: the story will close tomorrow.

Thank you for considering the request.

Cheers,

Randy Stross,Digital Domain columnist,New York Times SundayBusiness

*************

At 06:04 AM 12/15/2005, you wrote:

Randy

Im happy to answer any questions by email.. im in meetings this am and then on a plane, so cheating you some answers during my meeting may be the  best  option 

m

**************

The following is my responses following his questions. There was no further correspondence beyond a thank you after this

*******************

>

> 1. I would think that running an art-house chain is not unlike running  an opinion magazine like The Atlantic or The New Republic: it’s less a  conventional business than a good cause. Can you say: is the Landmark  Theaters unit profitable?

we dont disclose financials, but we are pleased with our operations.

If so, was this the case before you purchased  Landmark——and if profitability has only been attained recently, what  measures account for this feat? If the unit is not profitable, how  will digital projection help? I understand that theoretically many  more programs can be offered in a given week, but variety also means  higher marketing costs. Do you have data that shows a dramatic  increase in attendance when multiple programs are packed into a  schedule? Are there other economic arguments to be made in favor of  the transition?

Its a very simple equation. People come to see good movies. There arent any magic formulas. Digital creates some new opportunities to increase customer satisfaction. The quality of a digital print never declines. if a movie is popular, we dont have to wait to create another print. We can spend money on content or marketing rather than making and distributing prints. But none matter if our audience doesnt care about the film

2. Has Sony worked out the kinks on its 4K projectors to your  satisfaction?  Do you still plan to go with 4K exclusively, or will you try out 2Ks,  too?

Sony has been very responsive and we like what we see so far. There is more to 4k projection than just the projectors. The servers, the codecs, and other issues. There havent been any showstoppers so far.

We are going to move forward in a way that we think serves our customer base the best.

-What’s the current timetable for conversion? What will the costs run per theater?

We are in progress, and we dont disclose numbers

3. This holiday season, the sales of HDTV sets are likely to be  incredible, and HDNet and HDNet Movies should do very well. But the  better they do, I expect the harder it will be to get your happy  subscribers to leave the comfort of home and head to a  Landmark——especially with day-and-date universal release. Do you  have any additional thoughts about offers or promotions targeted at  theater patrons beyond those you discussed at Digitmart in September?

HDTVs havent cured cabin fever, the desire to get away from the kids, or the desire of kids to go on dates without their parents. Just because you better the home aspect of the entertainment experience doesnt mean you detract from the value of another.

the only missing link right now is the theater business, landmark included, extolling the virtues of enjoying a movie in a theater with fellow movie fans.

 4. A blast from the past: In 2000, you said that you planned to have  high-speed Internet jacks installed in every seat in the Mavericks’ arena.  Did that come to pass? If not, what happened, and are there plans to  add this in the near future?

we have wireless installed at the arena. What changed is that i learned that the fans create a communal experience when they come to a game. We want people screaming and yelling, not staring at a PDA or laptop. So we havent turned it on for fans.

 Thanks very much.

 Randy Stross

So there you have the email exchange.  And just for the fun of it, since Randy was so worried about Landmarks business,  I thought I would include an email from inside of Landmark Theaters this past Friday. 

From XXX

To :All@LM

BrokebackMountain is opening this week in 16 more Landmark markets after the hugely successful and much publicized opening at the Embarcadero in San Francisco.  (140,000 box office—44 consecutive sell outs).  In the 16 new markets we have XX  prints on the screen.  This print count is unprecedented in LT history.  I am ecstatically reporting the following opening numbers so far today.  Thank you for all the hard work it will take this weekend to seat and satisfy our theatre guests.

 Check these numbers out, all pre 5pm  (**Note, I have removed the theater names- m)

16,700 @ 4:00

16,300 @ 5:00

13,800 @ 3:00

15,200 @ 5:00

14,000 @ 5:00

12,739  @ 3:00

12,511 @ 3:00

12,283 @ 4:00

10,743  @ 5:00

 7161 @ 5:00

 6800 @ 5:00

 5582  @ 5:00

 7587  @ 5:00

 4000 @ 3:00

3200  @ 3:00

 3105 @ 3:00

 5132 @3:00

 2052  @ 3:00    

Lets just say , that for matinees, those are damn good numbers. The 44 consecutive sellouts is not too shabby. Congrats to the producers of Brokeback Mountain and to Landmark employees .

And all of this is on the heels of Good Night and Good Luck. A movie that not only did Landmark have great success with, but that 2929 executive produced as well.  And there have been other indie and art films that have done very, very well this year. Just look at the award nominees and discussions taking place. Plus, it looks like 2006 could be very strong as well !

But then again, we have great partners and great employees at Landmark that make things happen and keep our customers happy. We arent perfect, but we have people in every theater who bust their asses  trying to make sure every Landmark customer has a good or great experience. 

And as far as the value of digital projection, i gave him some simple starting points. He didnt want to delve any further.He used that old NY Times standard…find a quote(s) that supports my conclusion and go with it. The value of digital projection in a vertical company such as ours is wide reaching.  Producing a film in High Definition and never having to take it to film, not only saves us time and money that can be plowed into the product or marketing, but it also creates a unique visual look that we think filmgoers will appreciate, enjoy and find reason to go to a theater for. .

It also allows us to create new programs for film makers like Trulyindie.com . But he obviously was in a hurry and not interested in finding out more information.

And on the topic of HDTV in the home relative to digital projection in theaters:

. I obviously think High Definition is going to change the way we view and experience TV at home. HDNet and HDNet Movies are built on that premise. I expect a coming golden age of TV as viewers expect high definition quality from programmers and only HD channels, not the internet will be able to deliver in the manner consumers will want to experience it.

That said, I have also spoken and written about the importance of picture quality to HDTV consumers. The thing about HDNet and viewers of any High Def content, they want the best picture quality possible. The more they watch HDTV, the more demanding they are of quality. The greater the investment in a home theater system, the more demanding they are of better picture quality. The picture quality capabilites of new HDTVs will continue to improve as prices go down, UNFORTUNATELY, the picture quality of content delivered to those TV sets will probably never match the capabilities of those HDTV sets.

Put aside that new sets are being sold that are capable of displaying 1080p. Put aside that the cameras that will enable the capture of HD content in 1080p are a ways off.  The reality of today, and for the forseeable future, is that there is a HUGE disparity of picture quality between what will be delivered to all those HDTV sets from cable, satellite , DVD, HD DVD or Blu Ray and what those sets are capable of. (Sony, Panny, where are our HDCam and D5 lossless codecs ???)

What does this have to do with digital cinema ?  HDTV content delivered to an HDTV set  via your local cable or satellite proider, IF its compressed and there is a very good chance that it is or will be, will be of an equal or  lower picture quality than than what will be delivered via coming optical media options.

The picture quality of content delivered on optical media, which for the next 18 to 24 months at least, will be limited to the 50 to 100gb range in capacity. This will allow for picture quality, that  while better than cable or satellite, wont be able to hold a candle to the picture quality of what can be shown via a digital projector in a theater..

That means that  picture or sound quality in the home, will pale in comparison to the picture quality  in a theater for a long, long , long time..

The opportunity to deliver a movie shot on film and converted at full resolution to digital cinema quality, or like any of our movies at HDNet Films, starting with Bubble this coming January, to be displayed in the exact format it was captured, without compression, will create a unique visual experience for the film goer.( Just ask anyone who was at the Venice Film Festival and saw Bubble digitally projected.)

In english, that means that picture quality of a movie, shot in full resolution digital, shown in full resolution,  on a digital projector will look fucking amazing. It will look as amazing 10 years from now as the first time it was shown. 

Of course if its a lousy film, it wont matter. Of course there are people who will say they are happy with good old tv as is. That they are happy with DVDs as are. Just as has been said about every current to previous technology comparision ever made. Of course you can and are making do with what you are currently doing. Technology will still march on and impact business.  

The fact that the sound and picture quality in a digital theater will far exceed anything you can experience in your home wont be the deciding factor for many film goers. But there will be cinephiles who do want to experience “Full Resolution Cinema”. Maybe it wont matter for American Pie 7 or Cheaper by the Dozen 6, or The Family Stone or any movie shown in the 16 screen multiplex. But thats not Landmark Theater’s audience.

Landmark Theater patrons want to see what a brilliant director like Steven Soderbergh can do with a High Definition palette and what it looks like from a digital projector. They wouldnt care if it was for Oceans 16. They care if its Bubble.

Landmark Theater patrons will appreciate the fact that the resolution and sound are far superior to anything they could experience on their brand new HDTV and home theater system.

Landmark Theater patrons want to know that just because they are seeing a movie in its 3rd week, they arent going to be subject to  dirt, wear and tear  and pops in the film they are watching. We cant prevent that today. We will be able to with digital.

Landmark Theater patrons will love the fact that we can digitally feature new and exciting film makers knowing that their budgets went to the movie, rather than converting to film and striking prints, as will independent filmmakers.

Maybe digital wont matter for some of the big theater chains. It will matter for Landmark Theaters.

You would think that in the business section of the NY Times, a columnist would recognize the difference in the Landmark customer and those of large theater chains and in the goals of the associations that represent them vs  those of Landmark. 

You would think that he would take more time than an admittedly rushed email exchange before he would write the article that he did. 

Personallly, I would have thought the NY Times  Publisher and Editors would have demanded more before they would print the article. Its not like Im not accessible, and its not like they havent screwed up before.

 

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Reader Comments

1. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 12:16 AM ET by Sheldon Kotyk

Mark,

The URL to the NY Times is hosed.

2. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 12:23 AM ET by Sheldon Kotyk

was hosed. Wow. That was a fast fix.

3. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 12:57 AM ET by Brady Westwater

First, Brokeback Mountain proves films that are unique experiences will draw audiences into theaters. That will never change.

Second, the social experience of seeing movies is no longer unique (or satisfying) enough to make film going a regular habit.

Third, succesful long term theatrical distribution will only happen with the recreation of film going as an unique social experience.

Fourth, there is one way to not only recreate, but expand upon the film going social experience.

The question is - who will first understand the new business/social model?

Hint.

Walt Disney got it right, even though he didn't realize it.

4. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 6:12 AM ET by cmadler

Mr. Stross clearly does not understand some fundamental differences between seeing a movie at home and seeing the same movie in a theater. Very few people have the money or the space for a true 'home theater' equivalent to the theater experience. And as theater quality improves (and movies are made which take advantage of the higher quality), that gap becomes greater, not smaller. There is a reason that my wife and I are willing to plunk down almost $30 to see a new movie in IMAX, when we could pay half that for a standard theater.

Not to mention that it is nice to leave the house every now and then!

5. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 10:11 AM ET by Nick Davis

Mark, why not put the first 15 minutes of all your films online for anyone to see? Ultimately movies are about quality, and the internet no longer (usually) allows word-of-mouth to spread about bad movies through paid PR campaigns.

Distribution space is no longer limiting on previews, so why not give us a real preview? After all, if you cut me off after 15 and I'm really in to the picture, you can be sure I'll rush to the theater.

6. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 11:20 AM ET by DM

I think you should be smarter about dealing with press. Truism in life: if you're burned once it's their fault; if you're burned twice it's yours! Who cares if they're evil and wrong and you're right? Must think of it from their pov: they're under huge pressure to get the story out and are desperate for quotes. And I guarantee you that if you could make it easy for them to run a bigger, better funnier story told your way, they would.

Give them *full* replies carefully explaining your three main points on X in easy-to-adapt to print form, and give them quotable material (funny, memorable, easy to break into chunks etc) expressing your view. Don't expect them to spend hours ferreting out the truth of your view. Also, if they want to talk on the phone make it happen, since that's your best shot at finding out their delusions and correcting them. (Also makes the reporter feel more important, which is in your interest!)

Seems worth the investment, given the influence of the press, and you can always sit around wailing about the Times after the favorable article has run...

7. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 11:33 AM ET by gigi

imo the NYT looks backwards, not forwards - and within themselves rather than outwards to the globalized world (which of course includes bloggers). I love going out to see (worthwhile) films in a state-of-the-art theatre with my friends - too many distractions at home to concentrate.

But more than that, I'm looking forward to instant distribution of films everywhere in the world. I saw Syriana last week and as it's about a global topic I was looking forward to discussing it with my friends outside the US (remember when Bill and Melinda Gates had their 'virtual movie dates?) But guess what? It doesn't open in the UK for three more months, so we're totally out of sync. We need globalized communication, and films are certainly communication. So cheers to you for championing digital!

8. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 11:46 AM ET by Gary Kirkpatrick

I think the point about the "collective" theater experience is somewhat off the mark. I have found that with few exceptions (Star Wars, 2001 A space odyssey, Lord of the Rings) the crowd noise and the high price of snacks keep us from attending theater movies. In fact, we now wait for most movies to come out on DVD.

I have just installed an hdtv tuner in one of my pcs at home, and am using it to pull in the local hdtv channels, as opposed paying extra for satellite channels. I have no home theater system, just a dolby enabled receiver, some used bose speakers and a 32 inch sony analog tv. The quality is just as good as comes off the satellite.

Mark, have you explored using the secondary channels available on local broadcast stations to market the hdtv content you are generating?

I notice that our local PBS channel has 5 secondary channels...

9. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 11:52 AM ET by Phil

I don't really read the article as this huge grenade tossed at Cuban, despite some of the quotes perhaps being assimilated into the article out of context.

The article points out that using digital projectors will not significantly alter the experience of movie-goers in a way that would increase the bottom line of theaters. Cuban does not disagree.

Cuban concedes that digital projector technology itself is almost superfluous in the theater experience - it's all about content. You gotta give Cuban credit as a tech-savvy person to actually understand the relevance digital technology plays in the overall equation of the theater experience: almost nothing (remember Star Wars was made in 1977 with miniature models and reel-to-reel film). That tells me MC is not basing his business model on some techno-delusional mirage that will never come to fruition.

The main shortfall of the article was that it didn't do justice to Cuban in that he has hedged his investments on both sides of the fence: in both movie-theaters with 2929 and with his cable network HDNet et al.

The more people are drawn away from theaters to the home because of improved HDTV experience, Cuban wins with his HDTV cable networks. If they chose to remain loyal to the theater-going experience, he's got his foot on that base as well. It's a fail-safe investment strategy, assuming HDNet and his theaters can attract a decent slice of the subscribership pie based on content.

So I don't read the article as this huge hatchet-job on Cuban because it doesn't really articulate any errors or misconceptions that Cuban is making. He comes across as well-aware of all the relevant issues. The negative slant of the article is just noise.

10. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 12:15 PM ET by paul

This particularly viscous article in the Sunday NYTimes is under the classification of Digital Domain, but the British hack journalist here is strangely sentimental towards legacy film rather then bits and bites of our digital domain. The problem in Hollywood today is bad movies created by greedy Corporations completely lacking in creativity .
King Kong is a classic, why did it have to be remade a third time? Imagination can not be outsourced, regulated or confined. Creative people need the freedom to express themselves and tell the stories of their dreams and digital media is enabling a rebirth of expression.

11. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 1:04 PM ET by brady westwater

The reason movie going is no longer a national habit is because it is no longer an enjoyable much less an unique social experience.

As TV set standards - and screen size - increase at home, film going will rapidly accelerate its decline until exhibitors develop a new business model which can only be done by ignoring all past models of the business of film exhibiton.

Ironically, exhbitors just need to look at the models developed by competing entertainment industries to realize that the obvious answer has been sitting right in front of them for decades. And Cuban has the perfect infrastructure to do this.

12. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 1:29 PM ET by paul

This particularly viscous article in the Sunday NYTimes is under the classification of Digital Domain, but the British hack journalist here is strangely sentimental towards legacy film rather then bits and bites of our digital domain. The problem in Hollywood today is bad movies created by greedy Corporations completely lacking in creativity .
King Kong is a classic, why did it have to be remade a third time? Imagination can not be outsourced, regulated or confined. Creative people need the freedom to express themselves and tell the stories of their dreams and digital media is enabling a rebirth of expression.

13. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 3:16 PM ET by Rob Poitras

I wonder what would happen if all interview emails/phone calls for newspaper articles were freely available like you have done for this article?

14. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 4:24 PM ET by EP

Marc,

I dont know if only traditional reporting has weakend, I think you can see it accross the board.

Over the past year I have been interviewed by Business Week, ABC (New York), Telemundo, NPR...among many others, and I can tell you that no one, no one, does their homework. I was shocked at how little research anyone did.

But the thing is, I also dealt with many blog writers, and I dont think your points are any more valid for traditional media then they are for blogs...maybe you can say that reporting has suffered because of the many new distribution outlets for information, and so the bar for becomming a reporter has dropped accross the board.

15. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 4:37 PM ET by John Furrier

I find your blog post more informative then their piece. Thanks. Lets do a podcast on it :-)

What a funny world we live in. They ask you questions and then report on what they think you said...then you post the exact conversation and it's completely different...

16. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 7:10 PM ET by Greg Spira

The media has never been particularly big on accuracy. I learned this in high school when very single time the local paper did an article on my high school they got some key details wrong. There were no "good old days."

I read the Times article yesterday and while I thought it made some reasonable points, it possessed holes in its logic that you could sail the QE2 through. But, as usual, I'd say that we shouldn't read malice into what can be explained by stupidity.

17. Posted Dec 18, 2005, 7:11 PM ET by John Davidson

What is happening is that viewing a film is no longer underpinned by mass appeal. The market has fragmented significantly, not only by demographics but because of competition. Landmark Theaters are narrowing their audience and attempting to exploit a niche. It's classic behavior in a mature industry.

And how is Landmark doing this? By pointing out that once digital projection is a reality, it will be far and away the elite way to see a film. Cuban admits that the content must be there first, but that if the film is good then there will always be a significant amount of people who will want to see that film in the best way possible. What's more, they'll probably pay a premium to do so.

18. Posted Dec 20, 2005, 12:25 AM ET by futureoffilm

Mark

I've read your email and Stross' article several times, and I can't figure out what the problem is. Can you point to a place where you were misquoted or taken out of context? It seems to me that you just have a difference of opinion. You and Stross may view the facts differently, but that doesn't mean that you're right and he's wrong. The Times asks a legitimate question: does it make sense to invest in Landmark's digital infrastructure at the same time you're promoting day-and-date releases that encourage people to stay out of the movie theatres? You may not like the answer the Times comes up with, but that doesn't mean they didn't do their homework, it just means they didn't write a puff piece.

19. Posted Dec 20, 2005, 9:17 AM ET by Bryan Bruce

Mark, I still have those pics from Southbeach when you are a young man sitting on my desk to scan and send you. Sorry it has taken so long, Heather is 36 weeks pregnant and things are hectic.

My HDTV, experience:

Purchased a Yamaha reciever with HDMI inputs and outputs to go with my Plasma TV. Sound is as important as picture so I wanted to maximize my viewing and hearing pleasure by using HDMI exclusively. I was disappointed to find that my digital DVR cable box from Brighthouse Networks has a HDCP software installed that DOES NOT allow me to run the signal through my receiver. Hollywood is afraid I am sending the signal to a recording device. HDCP Error message is driving my crazy.

Anyone know a fix for this problem, please write me.

www.bryanbruce.net
bryan.bruce@gmail.com

20. Posted Dec 20, 2005, 7:16 PM ET by Tim

Does Cuban not understand that the article wasn't about him? It wasn't about Landmark either. The article could be written with or without Cuban's input. Since Cuban offered short, terse, emailed responses, just like the last NY Times article, and the author used his other sources for the story.

Whatever, it doesn't matter. Just please take care of your money, don't lose it, the Mavs need you to stick around and run things, don't end up like Tom Hicks...

21. Posted Dec 26, 2005, 10:48 PM ET by danny moore (new orleans evacuee in nyc)

mark, are you familiar with seth mnookin at all?

he wrote a book about the times.. hard news, that you might like.

i highly suggest it.


http://www.sethmnookin.com

22. Posted Dec 30, 2005, 1:47 PM ET by Danny

What was most interesting to me in all of this was the time spent looking backwards at cubes' history versus spending the time refuting/adding to the information about digital cinema.

I think he has a man-crush on you mark. :)

For home viewing I would really love it if DVDs had a mechanism to tone it down from R->PG. We don't watch R rated movies in our home. Usually it's given an R for some innocuous/gratuitous language/sexual situations. Very little addition to the film but offputting for many of the public.

23. Posted Dec 31, 2005, 3:50 AM ET by Michael Brundage

If the higher fidelity available in movie theaters is really such a draw, then why don't movie theaters establish content deals with major TV programs (which are also digitally produced) and show people's favorite TV programs at movie theater quality?

24. Posted Jan 2, 2006, 3:04 PM ET by nate

Do capital expenditures for optical infrastructure may need to increase for digital to be more prevalent?

25. Posted Jan 2, 2006, 3:28 PM ET by nate

nitpicky edit:

should read: Do capital expenditures for optical infrastructure need to increase for digital to be more prevalent?

26. Posted Jan 5, 2006, 5:08 AM ET by paulo VASSAR

http://www.hype.com/

Hype Energy Drinks are great tasting boosts of Caffeine, Guarana, and Taurine, perfect for Mixed Beverages and Cocktails

27. Posted Jun 7, 2006, 1:10 PM ET by whales

The more people are drawn away from theaters to the home because of improved HDTV experience.

28. Posted Aug 2, 2006, 3:23 AM ET by wow powerleveling

Very few people have the money or the space for a true 'home theater' equivalent to the theater experience. And as theater quality improves (and movies are made which take advantage of the higher quality), that gap becomes greater, not smaller. There is a reason that my wife and I are willing to plunk down almost $30 to see a new movie in IMAX, when we could pay half that for a standard theater.

29. Posted Aug 3, 2006, 3:25 AM ET by runescape money

In english, that means that picture quality of a movie, shot in full resolution digital, shown in full resolution, on a digital projector will look fucking amazing. It will look as amazing 10 years from now as the first time it was shown.

30. Posted Aug 13, 2006, 11:28 PM ET by imdbcn

good

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