Movie Ticket Prices and Acts of Piracy

A question: Who commits the greater act of piracy? Those who download movies off the Internet, or those who plunder the pocketbooks of the innocent who want to see the next blockbuster?

I’ve been finding myself asking that question more and more lately. For those of you who haven’t been to a movie lately (or a movie in Canada at one of the major chains), you probably haven’t seen the ads being played before the trailers, pleading with the general public not to download movies off the Internet.

They’re quite insulting, actually. They’re put out by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), although it’s not branded that way. It’s branded “Respect Copyrights” (, assumedly to draw attention away from the MPAA, which like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), have been raising a serious stink about people downloading copyrighted material off the Internet.

I’m all for copyrights! I wholeheartedly believe and subscribe to it! I’ll admit to a few MP3s that I don’t own outright, but I usually go out to buy the album if I like the music. (Otherwise, I delete it.) I believe in copyrights because it’s my only defence when some shmuck steals the code from my site (including my name!) to (apparently) improve search engine traffic to their porn site. Yeah, I don’t get that one, either.

What I’m not for is watching these patronizing ads. The two I’ve seen feature movie industry workers, whom you’ve never heard of or would never know. One’s a set painter, the other a stunt driver. They both proclaim that piracy doesn’t hurt the big-wig producers, but them directly.

No offence to them, but I fail to see how this is possible. Let’s look at reality, here. Movies will continue to be made (unless piracy gets to the point where movie companies go out of business), and movies will always — always — need people to make them. That means set painters and stunt drivers (okay, maybe not in every movie). You can’t have a movie without people doing the work.

It’s the producers who get hit. Let’s face it — the workers have already been paid for their toils. It’s the producers and the movie companies that get hit because the box office take is that much lower, and the DVD sales will be affected. (I’ll bet that’s half the reason for the rumours that “Matrix:Revolutions” will be out on DVD before the end of this year.) Nevermind the spiralling cost of making movies (for any number of a million reasons) or the escalating salaries of Hollywood stars — really, USD$20 million a movie? Who are you kidding?

So piracy hits the movie makers where it hurts them most — their pocketbook. Do I agree with this? Heck, no — I want them to keep making movies. I love movies! I love going to movies! I love everything about movies! What I don’t like is the propagandist crap the movie makers are shoving down on us.

Why are they doing it? Money, of course. They can’t stop people from downloading. Maybe they should stop the movies from getting on the Internet in the first place? Yeah, that would make sense, and the irony is that almost 80% of the movies available on the Internet are from … ready for this? … people in the movie industry (statistic compiled by AT&T Labs). The movie biz is cannibalising itself. But who gets blamed? We do, of course.

Why do people download? Money, of course. They don’t want to spend money to see bad movies. The quality of Hollywood films has been in decline over the years. In the last 10 years, there’s been a huge influx of degenerative garbage dressed as a movie. Little gems do get made, but there are far too many so-so (and much worse) films.

Now combine the quality factor with the box office prices. Right now (in Calgary), it costs $13.95 to see a movie after 18:00 (except Tuesdays) at the premiere theatres in town (coincidentally, mostly owned by Famous Players). When we went to see “Matrix:Revolutions, The IMAX Experience”, it cost us $16.50. (And it wasn’t an IMAX print, probably just a 70mm.) Until that point, seeing a regular movie on the IMAX screen didn’t cost a cent more than on a regular screen. On 16 December, a few of us are going to see the “Lord of the Rings” marathon — 12 hours of movies. (Yes, we’re sadistic.) Ticket price? $50. I had better get a “I surived 12 hours of Lord of the Rings and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” outta that price, otherwise I’ve forked out over $16.50 for each of the three movies.

Hey Movie Industry! Wanna know why people download? Here’s a hint — $11 for a weekend matinee! Give me a freakin’ break. I was ticked when regular movie prices were that much. Since when should a matinee cost a mere three bucks less than a regular movie? (Unless, of course, regular price is $7 or $8.) Where’s the incentive, eh? And don’t forget the extra $10 for the regular pop and regular popcorn. No wonder I sneak in M&Ms.

I was interviewed by CBC Radio Calgary (don’t know if it’ll ever air — I’ll keep you posted) about movies and the things that bug me about them. Without getting into too much detail, the big things were the whole “experience” (e.g. theatres with a lot of kvitch), high concession prices, and my single biggest favourite, high ticket prices.

This is why I like to frequent the independant theatres. They get excellent movies, have much more reasonable prices, and don’t offer anything I don’t need or want. I also still frequent the “lesser” chain theatres, such as Cineplex’s Eau Claire theatre. It’s old, it’s not as nice as the others, but it’s a movie theatre — nothing more. (Yeah, there’s an arcade/bar tacked onto the side, but the theatre itself is just a theatre.)

It seems pretty plain to me. Want to reduce piracy? Reduce the prices. This was something I learned in *grade* school. I don’t need any fancy MBA to tell you how it works. You can increase the number of patrons by lowering your prices. The trick is to find out when it’s maximized — something the major chains (for whatever reason) aren’t doing. They figure: raise the price, make more money!

I decided after the last price hike that enough was enough. When prices hit (or more likely, exceed) $14, I’m not going to evening shows anymore. Matinees and Tuesdays only. One day, not at all. Why? A guy’s gotta have a line. These prices are unsustainable, and if the only way I can protest it is not to go, then so be it. I’ll wait for a rental.

You want to talk piracy? Lemme show you the hole left in my wallet.