There's a technological divergence between the music and movie industry, one that has allowed the MPAA's member companies to sustain themselves while the RIAA's members languish in continuing losses. In a change of fortune for the movie industry, the MPAA announced today that movie ticket sales increased to $9.49 billion in 2006, a 5.5% gain from 2005, ending a three year decline and reaching a "historic high".
Similar although not quite as extensive as the music industry's losses, the movie industry suffered through several years of successive financial loss. It's difficult to pinpoint the reason for the movie industry's decline, however the MPAA will tell you it's largely attributable to piracy. While the music industry suffers mostly from unauthorized digital distribution, the movie industry is more equally susceptible to both physical and digital piracy.
Yet despite this dual front attack on the movie industry's bottom line, the movie industry has managed to turn things around and even prosper in 2006. How can the MPAA manage to sell 1.45 billion movie tickets in the US, 25.8 billion worldwide, and produce 63 films topping 50 million dollars in the face of unrelenting piracy?
Quite simply, it can all be boiled down to quality and convenience. Purchasing a bootleg copy of the latest theatrical release may save some money in the short term, however this is a crap shoot. Many times, bootlegs are of shoddy quality, consisting of background laughter, head shadows, and grainy pictures. And no one likes listening to dialog take place 3 seconds after the actor's lips start moving.
The alternative is to download the movie through any of the many avenues available. Yet this too presents the same potential difficulties as purchasing a bootleg. Movie downloading still belongs in the realm of the technologically savvy, as these individuals can easily differentiate between the poor quality and the eminent.
Home theaters have come down in price considerably in recent years, as it’s possible to invest $2,000 and have a good quality HD TV and 5.1 or even 7.1 audio surround sound. While much less expensive than recent years, the cost is still nothing that's easily dismissed. Most of the mainstream populace isn’t too keen on taking risks with bootleg material that may or may not take advantage of their theater equipment.
The music industry doesn't have it so easy. For the price of an internet connection, the latest LimeWire release, and a cheap MP3 player from Amazon.com or NewEgg.com, a $200.00 investment introduces even the most middling computer user into the world of unauthorized distribution. The end user can even skip the MP3 player investment and simply listen to music on their PC. The point being, it's much easier (and cheaper) to replicate the music experience at will.
This isn't quite the case for movies for the reasons described above. While many die hard file-sharers are willing to sacrifice quality, most mainstream Internet users are not. For the mainstream public, the theater or Blockbuster/NetFlix experience is much easier than dealing with exaggeratedly long torrent downloads or configuring Usenet clients.
Unless Internet connections either increase substantially - with a majority of US speeds topping over 50 megabits or greater - chances are the MPAA and movie industry will never suffer from the same ills that plague the music industry. Moviegoers demand large screens, loud sound effects, and the theater experience. All these things are subject to sacrifice when it comes to music, as it’s all about portability.
At the end of the day, there remains a startling disparity between the movie and music industry. The movie industry has managed to move forward in the digital age and turn their financial fortunes around, all without having to sue thousands upon thousands of file-sharers.