Hollywood Box Office Futures: A Great Idea If You Hate Movies
- Joshua M Brown
- May 11th, 2010
No, no, no. Trading box office futures is a terrible idea. They'll probably find a way to do it anyway, so in five years, look back at this post as your official warning.
I'll itemize the negatives in list form because the subject matter doesn't deserve my attention to sentence structure or composition.
1. Creativity: Consider the famous Latin slogan around the MGM lion, Ars Gratia Artis. Translated it means Art for Art's Sake. Yes, we're talking about this motto having been adopted by a ruthless, for-profit corporate studio but the sentiment still means something to many of Hollywood's most powerful players. The influence of these creative "believers" will wane even further as the siren call of "hitting the number" becomes even more crucial in the movie biz mindset.
2. Sequels and Remakes: You ever notice how when one successful IPO comes out, within weeks the market is flooded with companies in the same space, all being pitched as "the next ___"? Well the movie business is already suffering from this phenomenon and the products are getting increasingly more unwatchable. This is the reason why we're getting films like The English Patient 2: More Englisher and a "reimagining of The Godfather" updated for a new generation (will be set in South Beach and star The Jonas Brothers as the Corleone brothers).
The surest way to see even more of this effluvium? Put a bigger spotlight on opening weekend box office take than there already is. Many sequels and remakes only get greenlit because their name recognition guarantees big opening business. And of course, they are atrocious for the most part.
Betting: I've seen it mentioned that this type of trading will benefit Hollywood itself because people care more about things they've bet on. This is a disingenuous argument that ignores a very obvious example - the televised sports world. For the most part, people casually bet on sports because they are already watching them anyway. Only the junkies and degenerates watch a game strictly because they have a bet placed (unless we're talking March Madness, during which we're all junkies).
Manipulation: I can picture it now - a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy with very low expectations has a monster opening across the country leading to a windfall for a NY-based hedge fund that was betting big on the film.
Days later, we find out that the hedge fund crunched the numbers and it turns out that buying up empty theaters on opening weekend is a worthwhile cost of doing business as it jacks up your returns in the underdog film's futures contracts. This will lead to increasingly more awful product as Hollywood catches on to the fact whatever they put out, tickets will be bought by speculators.
Aside from the fact that a handful of betting pools will be taking advantage of the rest of the market, we could be looking at disastrous comebacks for the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Stone, as hedge funds manipulate their films' futures higher.
Regulation: I'll give you this much, the jurisdictional wars over who should be supervising Hollywood futures will be hilarious to watch. Sure, we have futures regulators for commodities already, but films are not commodities, they are entirely distinct from one another. One would imagine that the Gestapo-like MPAA will want some say in this activity as well to complement the stranglehold they already enjoy on motion picture ratings. And then of the course, as the hoopleheads are sucked into this vortex, the regular laundry list of regulators will want to write their own volumes worth of rules and regs.
Insider Trading: Let's say an America's Sweetheart-type actress is holed up in her trailer one shooting day, refusing to come out to complete her scenes. Further, it turns out that she was carrying on a drug-fueled inappropriate relationship with the director, leaving the studio with no choice but to remove one or both of them from the project. Material information, no?
And now let's say that a craft services worker or cinematographer's assistant gets wind of this prior to Variety publishing it. Can he or she trade on that knowledge? Can a hedge fund keep film staffers on their payrolls in a clandestine manner so as to get "color" from the set of a film before the herd? All of these hypotheticals amount to a playing field that starts off as inherently reckless and prone to abuse.
Believe it or not, making movies and television is one of the few things we still do better than anyone else, one of our few still-worthwhile export industries to the rest of the world. To poison it with additional regulation, the potential for manipulation and an even greater commercial taint is to strangle it completely, possibly to death.
So let them find something else to trade - and by extension - destroy. Let's leave one of our last-remaining national points of pride alone for now. We're doing enough damage with the playthings we've got already.
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The Reformed Broker is a blog about financial markets and the economy. Joshua Brown is a New York City-based investment advisor for high net worth individuals, charitable foundations, retirement plans and corporations... More.