A Little Teaser For “Ant-Man” Is A Big Win For Marvel

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Marvel Entertainment did not wait long before placing their mark on 2015. The Disney owned company is widely expected to have a banner year thanks to the release of both “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man”. Marvel rang in the new year by releasing an 18-second teaser trailer for the latter, once again proving their mastery of this specialized marketing medium.

Rather than simply post an 18-second spot online, which likely would have been enough to send fanboys the world over straight to their blogs, Marvel released a version of the teaser that demanded viewers give it a closer look… literally. Under the headline “1st Ant-Sized Look at Ant-Man” a video was posted to Marvel’s YouTube Channel on January 2nd. The video, shown above, features images and clips from the film sized perfectly for viewing by ants.

Of course, if you happen to be human, like most everyone with enough money to pay for a movie ticket, then this means the 18-seconds of footage is microscopic. Even the best squinters in the world would have a hard time making any of it out. Some dedicated fans discovered if the resolution of the video was increased to 1080p and blown up to full screen then the faintest of fuzzy images from “Ant-Man” could be made out. Maybe that’s why the video has racked up more than 6.3 million views on YouTube.

The following day, after dozens if not hundreds of media outlets had written about the tiny “Ant-Man” teaser, Marvel posted what they dubbed the “1st Human-Sized Look at Ant-Man” to YouTube. Shown below, it is the same exact video as the “ant-sized” version. This time however it was large enough to see by those of us who walk around on only two legs and who can carry a wallet, but nothing that is 5,000 times our own body weight.

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How MoviePass Converted AMC From Foe to Friend

MoviePass and AMC

Last week MoviePass, the unlimited moviegoing subscription service, reached a major milestone in the development of their company and possibly the decades old theatrical exhibition business model. AMC Theatres announced an agreement with MoviePass for a pilot partnership that will let its patrons in Boston and Denver sign up for a premium MoviePass subscription package. The program should be in place in early 2015 in both markets, allowing film buffs to see every movie in cinemas, in any format, including 3D and IMAX.

MoviePass Premium, as the new package has aptly been named, differs from the company’s standard subscription which does not include 3D or large format showings. It also costs USD $45 per month instead of USD $35 per month for the standard subscription.

For those unfamiliar with MoviePass, the company offers a subscription that allows moviegoers in the United States to see an unlimited number of films each month at a rate of one per day. Each film can only be viewed a single time. These features and regulations will be the same between both plans, however MoviePass Premium subscribers will only be able accepted at AMC locations in the pilot markets.

Just a few days earlier I had made a note to check in with Stacy Spikes, the co-founder and CEO of MoviePass, to get an update on how the company was doing for a potential post. The AMC announcement gave me the perfect opportunity to catch up with him in what could arguably be seen as a moment of vindication for Spikes and MoviePass. After all, when MoviePass first attempted to launch a beta in June of 2011, AMC Theatres told its personnel to reject vouchers from the Netflix-like service. The program was quickly halted when other exhibitors complained and it took MoviePass nearly a year to relaunch.

So, I reached out to Spikes the day AMC published their press release concerning MoviePass and, as has always been my experience, he responded within minutes. We were talking by phone within the hour; no publicists and no fuss. If only speaking with all motion picture professionals for a story were that easy.

When asked how it felt to be partners with one of the cinema chains that once tried to thwart MoviePass, Spikes said with a deserved sense of joy, “It’s kind of like a hard fought fight, but it’s a beautiful thing. You know, data kind of wins the day. It’s hard to argue with people who sign up and then want to go to your theatre more often.”

Spikes always struck me as a shrewd business person, as he demonstrated by not holding a grudge against AMC. “I’m excited about AMC,” he said. “They are so smart and they aren’t afraid to take risks. I think we can do some great things.”

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Sony Hackers Crossed A Line By Threatening Movie Theatres

The Interview Premiere

Though most of the entertainment industry and business world has been riveted to every breaking development of the Sony Pictures hack, we have purposely refrained from writing anything about it. That was until the perpetrators of the cybercrime threatened movie theatres showing an upcoming Sony film release with terrorist acts.

Yesterday morning, in what has become an almost daily ritual since news of the Sony hack first surfaced the group taking responsibility for the cyber attack, who call themselves the Guardians of Peace, sent an email which threatened:

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.”

The email went on to state that “The world will be full of fear” and referenced the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. It suggested, in no uncertain terms, that moviegoers should stay away from movie theatres screening “The Interview” and those that live near such cinemas should evacuate their homes. No specific reason was given, however since the hack against Sony Pictures first occurred it has been widely speculated that North Korea might be responsible for the attack in retaliation for “The Interview”, a film Sony had scheduled to open Christmas day. The comedy featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco centers around a plan to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

As a media outlet focused on the motion picture exhibition and distribution industries we were among those who received the hacker’s daily emails. Over the past few weeks we could have used this site to dissect the notes of countless DCI meetings from the past ten years or even highlight the terms of Sony’s various virtual print fee (VPF) agreements, details of which were contained in the staggered distribution of Sony’s data. However, there is a reason such information was meant to be kept confidential and its publication serves no greater public need. As well, the commercial matters being discussed within such documents is ancient history and any interest in them would be purely academic at best. That our silence came with the advantage of not publicizing the hackers or their crime was an added bonus.

But when the perpetrators took aim at the general public, threatening innocent people in a venue this particular media outlet considers a place of secular worship, they crossed a line that even the most malicious hackers know to avoid. Virtual thievery in the anonymity of cyberspace gives victims the false sense they are not in direct danger of physical harm. Threatening terrorist acts upon specific people or places in a world still smarting from an endless string of such events panics a public with feelings of immediate personal danger. That’s what makes such threats so affective and why the Sony hackers’ intimidation of movie theatres is far more damaging than any of the data they leaked.

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Answering A Few Hypothetical Questions About the “Interstellar” Unlimited Ticket

Interstellar Unlimited Ticket Meme

Two weeks ago AMC Theatres and Paramount Pictures announced they’d be teaming up to provide members of the cinema chain’s loyalty program, AMC Stubs, an opportunity to see “Interstellar” as many times as they’d like.

The Interstellar Unlimited Ticket, as the offering has been dubbed, costs between USD $19.99 and USD $34.99 depending on location. Stubs members who have already seen the movie can purchase an upgrade for USD $14.99. “Interstellar”, the latest film from director Christopher Nolan; a science fiction epic that was released to a great deal of buzz and in numerous formats, including traditional 35mm film, 70mm film, IMAX and digital.

In the press release sent out by Paramount announcing the program, Elizabeth Frank, AMC’s executive vice president and chief content and programming officer, stated:

“Christopher Nolan has created a masterpiece that movie fans are saying gets better every time they see it. The Interstellar Unlimited Ticket gives these fans an opportunity to experience the spectacular cinematography and heart-warming stories as many times as they would like – at any AMC location, any showtime, in any format, including IMAX.”

Not sure who these fans are with enough free time to sit through multiple viewings of a three hour movie, nor if that says anything about the unemployment rate in the United States, however “Interstellar” was one of this year’s most highly anticipated films and got pretty decent reviews. So, putting the question aside of whether there is actual demand to see “Interstellar” an unlimited number of times during its initial run, we contacted AMC hoping to get a few questions answered in an effort to write up a post that went beyond simply regurgitating the press release.

Thus, we are inserting the following obligatory statement:

AMC did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails seeking additional information and comments for this story.

We even went so far as to send the appropriate personnel at AMC some of the questions we had about the the Interstellar Unlimited Ticket, yet heard nothing back. Left with no way to cover the announcement in a manner that doesn’t come off as pure promotion, we came up with the concept of providing answers to the questions we had hoped to ask AMC. We’re not saying our answers are accurate, but simply educated opinions based on our own research and knowledge of the industry. Let us know what you think of them, and feel free to provide some of your own constructive answers in the comments section of this post.

When did the idea for the unlimited ticket program come about? Was it before the film’s release and, if so, how long did it take to put together?

The idea came about before “Interstellar” was released. One way to take a movie from being a strong success to an outright blockbuster is getting fans of the filmmaker or cast to see the movie more than once. Thanks to shortening theatrical release windows and the increased quality of home entertainment systems, the practice of seeing a release more than once in cinemas has decreased to an insignificant number.

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Regal Cinemas Causes A Disturbance In The Force

Regal's Star Wars Force Awakens Teaser Release

A few days ago you may have felt a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of PR managers suddenly cried out in terror, and a theatre chain was suddenly silenced.

Translation: Regal Cinemas learned the hard (and often harmless) lesson so many online retailers have already experienced on countless occasions.

While updating their customer-facing website over the weekend, Regal broke the news that a teaser trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (a.k.a “Star Wars: Episode VII”) would be shown in a small number of theaters. The circuit’s website even went so far as to list the nine cinemas showing the teaser before all films from November 28th through November 30th. In a commendable attempt to be thorough, Regal also posted links to the announcement on Facebook and Twitter.

The only problem in all this is that the official announcement of the teaser trailer for “The Force Awakens” was meant to come from its director J.J. Abrams who had not yet made the news public. Oops.

The “incident”, if you can actually call it that, occurred early Monday morning setting off a nerd alert in certain sectors of the Internet galaxy. Though Regal quickly took down the webpage and deleted their posts on Facebook and Twitter, they were soon made aware (if they weren’t already) that once something is published online, it is impossible to erase. Screenshots of their webpage and even a YouTube video began making the rounds on social media and the blogosphere.

It wasn’t long before official word came from Abrams, via his production company’s Twitter account, that an 88 second teaser for the highly anticipated release would hit select theatres this Friday. Shortly afterwards Regal republished their webpage announcing details on where and when to see the “Star Wars” teaser.

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YouTube Now Supports High Frame Rate Playback (Sort Of)

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Back in 2010, as debate raged over whether 4K was really necessary in movie theatres (it depends) and if consumers would ever adopt 4K television sets (they’re starting to), YouTube announced they would begin support of 4K video uploading and playback. The debate wasn’t entirely squelched though until Netflix began streaming content in 4K earlier this year.

YouTube may be squashing yet another film industry debate, this one over the benefits of content created and shown in high frame rate (HFR).

To date, the only feature film to be shot and released in HFR is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. The franchise was both captured and projected at 48 frames per second (fps). There have been only a few filmmakers who have since suggested they wish to shoot HFR at higher speeds, notably James Cameron. This is likely due to the lukewarm reception HFR versions of “The Hobbit” received as well as an uncertainty over the install base of HFR-capable digital projectors.

Though the merits of HFR are still being questioned for theatrical releases thanks to a perceived lack of audience interest, a couple of months ago YouTube announced they would begin support of 48 and 60 fps video. Almost immediately YouTube began testing HFR playback with limited groups, however at the end of October the feature was opened up to all users.

There is a bit of noteworthy fine print on the feature as it is currently offered. For instance, the only way to watch video played back in 60 fps is to view it in HD by selecting the 720p and 11080p from the settings drop down of each video. As well, the only web browser capable of showing 60 fps is Chrome, though support for additional browsers is forthcoming.

Oh, and one last thing… YouTube will be in charge of deciding what videos will be given the 60 fps treatment. For now they want to limit its use to videos that are considered “motion intense”. They may as well have just said, we’re doing this for video game footage. Most PC and console games run at 60 fps and look choppy when played back at the standard 24 fps. Playing back video at a higher frame rate gives viewers the same experience and perspective as the person actually playing the game. I’m sure you’ll agree the sample video shown above looks crisp, clear and with smooth, fluid movement.

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New MPAA and NATO Wearables Policy Is As Much About Social Norms As It Is About Piracy

Sergey Brin Wearing Google Glass

Google’s Sergey Brin shows off Google Glass

In his classic 1835 treatise on American society, Democracy In America, french historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.”

This passage sprang to mind as I read the anti-theft policy update issued jointly on October 29th by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). The new policy focuses on wearable devices like smart watches and Google Glass, the latter being an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that attaches to prescription or custom eyewear. Many of these devices are equipped with a camera and thus the reason the MPAA and NATO felt obliged to revise the policy. Their statement read as follows:

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have a long history of welcoming technological advances and recognize the strong consumer interest in smart phones and wearable “intelligent” devices. As part of our continued efforts to ensure movies are not recorded in theaters, however, we maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward using any recording device while movies are being shown. As has been our long-standing policy, all phones must be silenced and other recording devices, including wearable devices, must be turned off and put away at show time. Individuals who fail or refuse to put the recording devices away may be asked to leave. If theater managers have indications that illegal recording activity is taking place, they will alert law enforcement authorities when appropriate, who will determine what further action should be taken.

The two organizations already had a standing policy against the use of mobile phones in theatres. It is simply being extended now to encompass wearable devices. You might even say the decision was a “no-brainer” accept for the confusion that might occur in reference to the cinema patron who decides to use “no brain” by wearing such a device into an auditorium in the first place.

Unfortunately people do indeed wear electronic devices into cinemas as was demonstrated in January when a moviegoer in Columbus, Ohio was detained by federal authorities for wearing Google Glass during a showing of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”. The incident occurred when alert theatre personnel at the AMC Easton 30 noticed a patron wearing the “recording device” during the screening and contacted the MPAA, who in turn notified the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees movie theft.

Much in the way there were recently fuzzy policies and procedures on how to treat Ebola patients in the United States, there were no guidelines back in January for cinema operators on how to handle patrons with wearable devices such as Google Glass. It took the trade organizations a notably long time to update their anti-theft policy afterwards, however this may have more to do with the MPAA’s working relationship with Google and their desire to maintain it.

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AMC Scores Promotional Hat Trick With “Big Hero 6″ Giveaway

AMC Big Hero 6 Pin GiveawayI awoke on Monday morning to a notification on my iPhone related to “Big Hero 6“. The latest animated release from Walt Disney Pictures had just topped the box office in North America during its debut weekend, fending off Warner Bros. “Interstellar” by taking in over USD $56 million.

The iPhone notification however didn’t have anything to do with the past weekend’s box office. Rather it was sent by the AMC Theatres mobile app I have installed on my iPhone. I have the app set to enable notifications and even allow for it to use my location. That’s why every time I drive past an AMC multiplex my mobile buzzes with a notification. I still haven’t determined if that’s annoying or not.

The notification concerning “Big Hero 6″, pictured here, was alerting me to a special promotion the cinema chain was running that gave away limited edition pins for the movie with the purchase of tickets. The message read, “Which Baymax pin will you get?” with pictures of both the pins featuring the huggable robot at the center of the film. One ploy in the promotion is that only one in ten pins will be of Baymax in his hero armor, presumably making those versions more valuable.

The ultimate catch in all this is that the giveaway is exclusive to members of Stubs, AMC’s loyalty program. I continue to pay for Stubs each year, always swearing it’s the last year I’ll do so. Even though I could personally care less about them, exclusive benefits such as these giveaways make more inclined to not question the annual Stubs membership charge. After all, my kids would probably love the pins… even though each would probably get different versions leading to arguments over who gets which one on the way to our seats.

I only point all of this out to highlight how AMC used the giveaway to score a promotional hat-trick. They promoted the film, “Big Hero 6″ and their loyalty program, Stubs, while at the same time reminding me about their mobile app (which I rarely use).

They may have even convinced me to head on over to the nearest AMC Theatres so I can see the film while supplies last. Maybe I can pay for my Stubs membership by selling the pin on eBay. At the time of this writing they are already fetching over USD $11.40 and counting.

Marvel Plays It Smart After “Avengers” Trailer Leak

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When Marvel Entertainment learned the teaser trailer for their highly anticipated super hero movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron” had leaked online they had a number of options in how to respond and ultimately did so in an exemplary manner. With the resources of Disney, their deep-pocketed owner, Marvel could have sent take down notices to every single website posting the leaked trailer. They could have even gone so far as to file suit against specific sites hosting or disseminating the trailer. Instead, Marvel handled the incident efficiently and in a way that painted them in a positive light.

The trailer in question is the first for the studio’s 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers” and was leaked via Google Drive. Within hours Disney sent Google a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requesting the file be removed. Initially there was some concern that an entire cut of the movie had been pirated however that seems unlikely since it is still being completed.

When the leak was first noticed on October 22nd, rather than run around with a SWAT team of lawyers trying to squelch the trailer’s distribution, Marvel decided to promote the incident with a single two word tweet that read, “Dammit, Hydra”. The post has been retweeted and favorited over 60,000 times and set the tone for the rest of Marvel’s actions related to the leak. By referencing Hydra, a global terrorist network in the Marvel universe, the company was showing a sense of humor in a relevant fashion. They seized control of the situation from that moment forward.

With the footage in the wild Marvel understood there was no way to stuff the genie back into the bottle, if you will, and one-upped the leakers by quickly releasing an HD version of the trailer along with a poster for the movie. This delighted hardcore fans who quickly kept the chatter about the trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” going strong on social media.

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