In today’s uncertain media product landscape, it shouldn’t be surprising that producers of content are seizing at whatever trend comes their way. In movies, it’s been 3-D — which allows theaters to charge higher prices for blockbusters, some of which are well-designed for the format, and others of which are badly retro-fitted just to jump on the trend and get that increased income from fewer tickets.
Now, it seems that customers have gotten wise to the gimmick and are rebelling. (Those darn customers! Won’t do what the money-makers want!) The NY Times recently ran an article comparing ticket percentages between 3-D and 2-D versions based on the disappointing opening of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which did not break $100 million in its first U.S. weekend.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which cost Walt Disney Studios an estimated $400 million to make and market, did poor 3-D business in North America. While event movies have typically done 60 percent of their business in 3-D, Stranger Tides sold just 47 percent in 3-D. “The American consumer is rejecting 3-D,” Richard Greenfield, an analyst at the financial services company BTIG, wrote of the Stranger Tides results.
The article goes on to say that Kung Fu Panda 2 only did $53.8 for its Memorial Day weekend opening, with 3-D making up 45% of that total. I find this consideration of quality refreshing:
Consumer rebellion over high 3-D ticket prices plays a role, and the novelty of putting on the funny glasses is wearing off, analysts say. But there is also a deeper problem: 3-D has provided an enormous boost to the strongest films, including Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, but has actually undercut middling movies that are trying to milk the format for extra dollars.
Look at that! Better movies do better! Yet note that 3-D is still a novelty in other countries, where burnout has yet to occur. Stranger Tides opened with $256 million overseas, which Disney called “the biggest international debut of all time”. Studios have to be counting on more results like that, since 16 3-D movies are scheduled for this summer, including Transformers: Dark of the Moon and the final Harry Potter film, and the box office is now structured such that 70% of total income comes from outside North America.
On a personal basis, I can say that in my case, the novelty has worn off. Instead of excitement, 3-D makes me think the movie will be too dark and headache-inducing. I’d much rather see a 2-D version. And before this article gets 3-D dislikers too excited, note that I was also writing about a 3-D backlash over a year ago. But that was before customers started putting their money behind their preferences.