from the positive-reinforcement,-rather-than-negative-reinforcement dept
One of the areas of economics I'm most interested in is focused on incentives. While it's a simplification of things, there are so many areas where people seem to naturally gravitate towards negative reinforcement as an incentive system -- that is, punishing people for things they believe are wrong. While that does work in some cases, it's amazing just how frequently positive reinforcement to nudge behavior in a better direction works much, much, much more effectively. Aaron DeOliveira points us to an interesting example of a company focusing on positive reinforcement in an area where most people have long-assumed that punishment was the only possible option: dealing with the annoyance of people texting during a movie. The first response that many theaters (and theater goers!) have, is to "punish" this behavior by outlawing it. They set up rules and put up signs. They have silly commercials before the show about how annoying it is. But it's all based on the idea of negative reinforcement: punishing or shaming those who engage in the behavior. But, quite frequently, that does little to actually get people to stop.
So, it appears that the Cinemark chain of theaters is trying a system of positive reinforcement. Within its normal movie app for iOS and Android is a separate "mini-app" allowing users to put their phones into "CineMode." It automatically makes the screens on the phones dim, and puts them into vibrate mode -- sort of like an equivalent to airplane mode. But here's the kicker: since the app knows what you're doing, it can keep track of whether or not you actually follow through and leave CineMode enabled throughout the entire flick. For the users who do that, they get rewarded:
When the movie ends and the guest exits CineMode, Cinemark will automatically send a reward (digital coupon) through the app and store it in the Rewards section.
Who knows how well it will work in practice, but it's great to see people realizing that technology can help enable this kind of positive reinforcement, rather than always doubling down on the negative reinforcement/punishment.
For many years, we've heard various stories of how anyone who attends an early movie screening (i.e., before the movie has actually been widely released), should expect to be treated like a total criminal. The usual stories involve being searched carefully and being required to hand over all mobile phones, which will be held until the end of the film. Reader minerat writes in to tell us of his story, which involved going to a 7:30pm showing of Moneyball last week -- just a few hours before the movie was actually being released. Even so... same process. "Security made everyone give up their cell phones and checked all bags." And, it appears that security had their priorities straight from the MPAA:
The better part is after we gave up our phones, another security guard waves a metal detecting wand over us and we had to empty our pockets on any hits. My friend has a license to carry a firearm and was carrying - we thought this would be a problem (it's a center city Philadelphia theater), but no, he didn't care about his loaded handgun. Apparently a cameraphone is the bigger threat to a movie that will be publicly released 2 hours after we step out of the theater. Of course the DVD screener has been available on usenet for 3+ months.
For all the talk from the entertainment industry about how anti-copyright Google is, it's really quite amazing to see how the company seems to bend over backwards on most issues to please copyright holders at the expense of users. The latest is the news (submitted by a few folks) that Google's annoying movie rental offering won't work on rooted Android devices, because of Google's fear that it could get around the DRM of the movie service. Of course, this is silly. All of that content is already available from unauthorized sites. Purposely punishing those who want to buy but who use more open devices is pretty counterproductive.
Just last month, we wondered how long it would be until a feature-length film was shot solely on a smartphone. We're not quite there yet, but Ross Pruden points us to the news that famed South Korean director Park Chan-wook, who did the movie Oldboy, has shot a new film entirely with iPhones. Of course, I'm not sure it really qualifies as a "full-length" film, since it's only half an hour. But we're getting there. I would imagine it won't be long until we get a real feature-length film filmed entirely with smartphones. While it still may feel gimmicky at this point, think of just how empowering that can be to filmmakers. In the past, just the idea of making a film represented too huge a hurdle for most people. But these days, a huge percentage of people now carry one of the key tools in their pockets every single day. That's a tremendously disruptive technological shift.
Earlier this year, we wrote about the (very, very cool) publicity stunt pulled by the band Atomic Tom, where they performed one of their songs live on the NYC Subway using only iPhones as instruments. Of course, they also filmed the whole thing with iPhones as well and that's actually becoming more popular. Jeremy points us to a story at Mashable covering ten music videos filmed with the iPhone and most of them are pretty damn good. Here's one that was produced and edited by Emmy Award-winner Alen Petkovic for the band Vintage Trouble:
As you watch these videos, you realize that in a lot of cases, if you didn't know they were filmed with a smartphone, you'd probably never know. We've shown how filmmakers can make a pretty high quality film with a standard DSLR in the past but I'm beginning to wonder when we'll see the first released "feature film" filmed entirely with smartphones. I would imagine it can't be that far away.
And, if you think about it, this is pretty damn exciting. I remember when I was a kid, the idea of being able to make movies was a really cool idea but it involved saving up a ton of money to buy an expensive video camera or hoping that you could find some friends whose parents had a video camera (which they never really wanted us kids to borrow). But when you get a super high quality video camera included in the phone you already bought anyway... well, suddenly some pretty powerful things can be enabled.
At a time when the movie industry is whining and complaining about how there are supposedly going to be fewer movies made, I'd argue that they haven't paid much attention to how much the tools of film making have been getting ridiculously cheaper over the past couple of decades. And no (before the Hollywood apologists step in and falsely claim this), I'm not saying that just because you can take decent videos on an iPhone, it means that we don't need professionals or higher end cameras and such. This is just to point out the extreme end of the spectrum and to recognize that some of it is definitely filtering back to other parts of film making as well. A professional film shot on a tight budget might actually be able to do a few more things because they can go with cheaper cameras. I've been listening to Kevin Smith's podcasts about his upcoming film Red State, and at one point, they mentioned that in order to fit things in their budget, they ended up borrowing a Red Camera (which is a high quality, but relatively cheap camera) from a guy in exchange for letting him hang out on set. But imagine what more people could do if they could devote less of their budget to things like cameras and make existing budgets go further.
Reader Terry Westley points us to yet another example of how companies are recognizing that content is advertising. Disney has apparently released a free iPhone game that's fun on its own, but which also serves to help promote an upcoming movie release. While some will dismiss this as just being a cheap way of advertising, you have to wonder what happens when movie makers start making these sorts of games really, really good. Then what happens to game developers who think they can get away with charging for their mobile phone games? Suddenly it becomes a lot harder to support that model if there are other businesses that are using a model where, the more games that are given away for free, the more it helps the rest of their business.
Two different themes we've discussed here quite often are (1) that movie theaters need to stop worrying about piracy, and focus more on improving the moviegoing experience and (2) that advertising is content -- and it better be good content if you want the advertising to be effective. That's why it's somewhat encouraging to see that movie theaters are now experimenting with much more entertaining and interactive "pre-show" advertising. They're doing things like using motion sensors to have the audience "play" a game as a group, or having them use their mobile phones to vote on certain questions on the screen and immediately showing the results. That latter example may be doubly surprising considering how theaters these days are so anti-mobile phone. Still, while this is a move in the right direction, it's the wrong thing to be focusing on at this point. Improving the overall experience is much more important than making the pre-show ads better, so hopefully this is only one small part of what theaters are working on these days.
from the please-tell-me-this-is-an-april-fools-joke dept
We were just talking about how people don't want to watch broadcast TV on their mobile phones, as the content isn't really designed for people on the go, and all of a sudden Sony thinks that people will want to watch full-length feature films on their mobile phones? Yes, Sony has worked out a deal to offer streaming feature films on AT&T mobile phones starting in May. The films are old films that have already had all the marketing life squeezed to death out of them ("Karate Kid," "Ghostbusters," "Bugsy"). While there won't be a charge to watch them, they will include advertisements (because there's nothing people like better than watching commercials on a tiny mobile screen as they wait to see the ending of "Ghostbusters"). Oh yeah, also, viewers have no control over the timing. It's not "on-demand," it'll just be an ongoing loop. Weren't companies like AT&T just complaining about too much bandwidth being wasted?
Back in 2003, Disney's brilliant idea to "compete" with TiVo and Netflix was to start MovieBeam. Just the fact that Disney felt it needed to compete with TiVo and Netflix shows you how backwards the thinking was at the point. Moviebeam was a terrible idea from the start. People were expected to buy (yet another) expensive set top box from Disney, which would basically be a very limited DVR. The hard drive would come packed with about 100 movies, and each week some would disappear and others would magically "beam" into the box. Despite the fact that you already had to pay for the box, you still had to pay each time you wanted to watch a movie -- and, you were only given a 24-hour time period in which to watch that movie. Two years into the program (with only a few small test markets) Disney shut down the program. At the time, we figured it was gone for good, but somehow, some VCs and Cisco were convinced to pony up $50 million to bring this idea back to life as a spinoff from Disney. Yet, when the offering was relaunched (with a few small improvements) people still didn't care. Earlier this year, the company was basically sold off for next to nothing, and now the company has announced that it's shutting down operations next week. Who knows, though, maybe it'll rise from the dead again, so that it can fail a few more times.