'The Movie Business Is Dying!! Blame TV!' — The 1959 Edition

from the the-sky-is-falling dept

We’ve noted, multiple times, that the entertainment industry has an incredible ability to simply declare that any new innovation is clearly going to kill the old industry, and every single time they’ve been wrong (often ridiculously so). Of course, the most famous may be Jack Valenti’s claim that the VCR was the “Boston Strangler” to the movie industry. But this kind of ridiculously wrong predicting happened throughout history. One of our readers, Craig, points us to a fantastic program put on by the CBC radio up in Canada, culling through the archives of old interviews and re-airing them, including a series of interviews with “leading ladies of Hollywood.” That link is actually to the second part of the series. You can find the first part here. Each episode is a series of interviews. The final interview in the first part is a few minutes of a talk with Mary Pickford, who not only was a huge Hollywood star in the early days of Hollywood, but also cofounded the movie studio United Artists (with her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin), and was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the folks who put on the Oscars). The interview then continues into that second part of the series.

So why do we care? Well, take a listen to the interview in part 2, done in May of 1959 with the CBC’s Tony Thomas, where Pickford starts complaining about how television is killing the movie industry, and warns especially about the pernicious intent of pay TV. Starting around 27:40 in the recording, she claims that TV is going to takedown the motion picture industry:

Pickford: I, in my short life, have seen the birth and the death of motion pictures.

Thomas: You think the motion picture has died?

Pickford: Mm hmm.

Thomas: But why should it?

Pickford: Because of the competition. Uh, you know. You can see the old motion pictures, that are just as good… or better than some of them today. And why should people leave their house?

Thomas: But you can see a picture so much better on a big screen in a comfortable theater than you can on a box in your living room.

Pickford: Well, that’s true. But it’s very expensive, and we have to face the fact that at one time there was 17,000 theaters — I don’t know what the number is today — but it breaks my heart to go by them today and see them… bowling alleys and skating rinks. Certainly, the motion picture will always be there, but I believe when paid TV comes in, and I’m sure it’ll be less expensive than going to the theater, that it’ll be the real death knell of motion pictures.

Sound familiar? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making a bad prediction. We all do it. But, when the industry “insiders” are so consistently dead wrong about how every new technology will “kill off” their existing industry, at some point, shouldn’t we be asking why people still take them seriously when they do it again?

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Comments on “'The Movie Business Is Dying!! Blame TV!' — The 1959 Edition”

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MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

Yes. Between vaudeville and burlesque (albeit, modern versions thereof that have predictably evolved with the times), there’s a lot to be found if you know where to look. In my city, there are vaudevillian performers who perform at open air markets on the weekends and there are vaudeville and burlesque acts in a lot of nightclubs and bars.

Jody says:

Why does it matter

There is one thing I don’t understand about all this from the MMPA and RIAA – why should I care? What does your poor business model have to do with me? Of course eventually the Movie industries and Music industries as we know them will die out. That is the circle of life and technology. Old things get put aside, become obsolete and new better fast more user friendly things come in. Think with me for a moment. What if bakers protested when bread makers came out, saying that it if people wanted to make bread they could as long as they also bought rolls from a bakery. Or you could only use e-mail if you sent a hard copy by usps. It’s just ridiculous. If a company cannot adapt they should go out of business. That is the main problem with all of these bailouts (I mean both political and monetary). If you can’t hack it you don’t deserve my sympathy, nor do you deserve my money.

Jon Lawrence (profile) says:

The More Things Change...

The more they stay the same. The Producers Guild and MPAA both to this day revere Mary Pickford; and as a whole are incredibly focused on the continued exclusivity of their clubs and protectionism of their business models.

What’s sad, to me, is that now is a golden opportunity to recognize there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new media makers; new producers, as it were. Why not reach out to them and provide them with meaningful support and infrastructure; and in the collaboration maybe come up with some new ways of doing business?


Anonymous Coward says:

Well, in a way she was right, but got the timing wrong and mistook the media for the message. The movie industry didn’t die, but the movie theater industry certainly never recovered and continues to shrink. Which is to say Hollywood still makes movies, but for in-home theaters rather than mass audience theaters. These days, the theater release has more to do with promoting the “secondary” markets than an end in itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Part of that could have to do with the fact that movie theaters didn’t do much to offer people an experience good enough to convince them that the enjoyment of going to the theater is sufficiently greater than the enjoyment of watching at home to justify going to the theater.

Theaters need to innovate. Bigger screens, higher quality pictures, better sound, maybe find other ways to help people enjoy the movie better. More theaters can adopt Imax.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

At Disneyland there are/were “movie rides” that delivered wind, mist, artificial acceleration, various odors, and earthquake effects by making the ground shake during relevant scenes (ie: Honey I shrunk the audience, Star Tours, Soarin’ Over California).

Movie theaters can do the same thing. Stick hydraulics (as in what makes cars bump up and down) on the stage and make the stage shake during simulated earthquakes or explosions. Find ways to simulate wind, mist, odor, stage vibration, acceleration, etc…

For whatever reason (part of it might have to do with government lobbying for bad laws) these theaters have gone far too long without innovating. It’s time they stop complaining and start innovating.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Another thing that would be easy to do is to simulate lightning. Have a bright camera like flash momentarily light up in the top middle of the room (and a couple of them throughout different parts of the room) during appropriate events. There are all sorts of theatrical innovations they can come up with, many of them not too expensive to implement even, if they only put some effort into it. But instead they choose to only complain.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

and to extend the lightning idea, they can have a lightning light in the front of the room, one in the back, one to the left, one to the side, and one on top (and perhaps one on each corner) of the room and have them all flash in different patterns (ie: first have the front one flash and immediately after have the back one flash, then have the left side one flash followed by the right side, and keep on flashing them in different patterns so as to simulate randomness in terms of which one will flash when so that it looks more like a real lightning storm).

I can think of a million theatrical innovations that they can come up with to enhance the experience and make it more worthy of attending. But no, instead of innovating, all they choose to do is complain complain complain (and lobby, lobby lobby).

Eric Reasons (profile) says:

Control and Artificial Scarcity

The difference between the disruption seen in 1959 and the disruption today, is that it was two different (but related) industries that were vying for control of a distribution medium. Throughout media’s modern history, the reigns of power have changed hands but there was still scarcity in play (sometimes artificial, sometimes natural). The gatekeepers changed positions, but they were always gatekeepers.

The Internet removes that scarcity, and removes those gatekeepers. I’m not saying that we won’t find a way to benefit from this new structure, but I am saying that it is truly novel, and not just a continuation on a historical curve. I’m not sure that history can inform us on this matter.

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