Breaking News: Sky Still Not Falling

It's an art, this isIt is no secret that journalists are often assigned to write stories about material with which they are not entirely familiar; it happens to everybody at one point or another.

The trick to writing such stories is to learn as much as you can about the material before you start writing, rather than start from a presupposed point and build your story around a preconceived conclusion; to investigate, if you will, before reporting.

Anyway. Long story short, Tony Wong’s story about the impact of movie piracy on DVD manufacturer Cinram in today’s Toronto Star is one of those facts-to-fit pieces … and most of the facts he cites to prove the angle are really just buffed-up anecdotes. (Actual fact: Lobbyists and corporate spokesmen can rarely be counted upon to provide objective analysis.)

The piece isn’t entirely incorrect, just slanted towards a given viewpoint and riddled with observations that aren’t entirely, you know, correct.

(More after the jump.)

While it’s true that a pirated DVD of “American Gangster” — almost certainly sourced from the “For Your Consideration” awards screener Universal sends to critics and industry organizations — was available online several days before the film opened theatrically, the claim that said DVD “was selling in some retail stores across the Greater Toronto Area” is a bit of a push; those “retail stores” were stores that sell pirated DVDs, rather than established businesses of the sort one imagines when one hears a phrase like “retail stores”.

And though the whole article seems to be built around the news that Cinram “will cut distributions” (whatever the hell that means) “and suspend them entirely in the new year”, piracy has nothing whatsoever to do with that decision:

However, while piracy is a long-term concern, [Cinram spokeswoman Lyne Beauregard Fisher] said a “confluence of factors,” including a high Canadian dollar, and lower-than-expected sales of high definition DVDs, were the reason for the company’s immediate decision to reduce distributions.

A recent report by Canaccord Adams says, “Cinram continues to be negatively impacted by a maturing DVD industry. Erosion in DVD shipments not only continues, but the shipments are declining at an accelerating pace.”

Thus: Cinram’s scaling back of its outlook reflects the reality that DVD sales have plateaued in recent months rather than continuing to grow — which, by the way, is entirely natural for a format that’s been around for a decade. It’s like CD player sales levelling off in the late 1990s; everyone who wanted one had bought one by that point.

So, Cinram’s financial adjustments are in no way related to piracy. The spokeswoman says it; another analyst makes the same point immediately thereafter:

“Piracy isn’t the cause of their current problems, but it’s a big issue. You can’t help but walk down any street in New York and you’ll see DVDs on a blanket somewhere,” says analyst Corey Hammill of Paradigm Capital Inc.

But that’s not what Wong wants to report, so he turns to the scourge of in-theater camcording, and how studios are taking extreme measures to stop it:

At the press screening for Mr. Bean’s Holiday earlier this summer, metal detectors and guards with infra-red goggles were observed.

… which tells me Tony Wong attended the preview screening of “Mr Bean’s Holiday”. Strictly speaking, there was no press screening for that film; Universal invited critics to attend an invitational preview to which the usual assortment of contest winners and friends of the studio was also admitted.

See, if Wong had asked a critic about that — perhaps one of the four or five writers at his own paper who regularly review films — he or she would have replied, “yeah, that’s fairly common nowadays. Fox and Alliance even do it at press screenings. Oh, and when you use the phrase ‘metal detectors’, you make people think of airport security; the things they use at the screenings are wands.” And then he’d have had a statement that was correct and accurate.

Oh, and speaking of things being correct and accurate — and as long as I’m being a pissy little pedant — the opening-weekend gross of “American Gangster” was $46.3 million, not $50 million, as he reports in his lead.

I mean, come on.

5 thoughts on “Breaking News: Sky Still Not Falling”

  1. You’re probably right about most of your criticisms on the piece, but I think you were a bit hard with:

    “…those “retail stores” were stores that sell pirated DVDs, rather than established businesses of the sort one imagines when one hears a phrase like “retail stores”.”

    I’m sure you’ve visited Pac Mall to see the bootleg DVD shops yourself (if not, you should). I don’t see why they couldn’t be considered ‘retail stores’. You argue that they’re not “established businesses”, but many of them have been around for years selling nothing but bootlegs. And they’re all out in the open. So I’d say they ARE established retail stores.

    As for the argument that bootlegs doom the industry, I agree that that’s pushing things too far. I just wish that the HD DVD war would end, and the prices would drop, so that I could go buy a bunch of movies. It’s not the bootlegs that are hurting the industry, it’s the industry’s inability to embrace and use technological advances.

    Just my two cents.

    P.S. I’ve been waiting for the comments field to be fixed to ask for a book recommendation (congrats on figuring it out). I’d like to read a book that describes the techniques used to create films. I’d like to be better able to deconstruct a film. To recognise and appreciate the film-making on a deeper level than performances and story. Any thoughts? Any other film-related books you think are must reads for film buffs?

  2. yes norm. biggups for writing this.

    last thing we need is another “poor movie industry” article – and a poorly researched one at that.

    long live the pirates!

  3. I’m constantly amazed at how often in the piracy debate the discussion turns to in theatre camcorder DVDs. I just don’t believe these have any real impact on sales. Not when pristine digital copies are so readily available all over the web.

    Also, just wanted to point out that the 50 million opening gross quoted is even more incorrect if you look at the actuals instead of the Sunday estimated gross. I point this out because those Sunday numbers are reported like gospel by the press and it just steams my beans.

  4. @ Oded: You’ve got a point, I guess … and on second thought, “established” wasn’t the best word I could have used. I’d have gone with “legitimate”, if I’d thought about it longer; “retail stores” implies some legitimate standing, with product coming from authorized distributors and copyright owners being compensated for the sales of their wares. The Pacific Mall bootleg stores, however established they may be, are not legitimate.

    Oh, and for book recommendations, I could list a hundred … but why not just randomly grab a couple of Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael’s early collections at your local used bookstore? They’re more than likely to have written about movies you’ve seen, and comparing their experiences and interpretations of those films with your own will help you exercise your own critical muscles. Plus, they’re eminently readable.

    @ Liam: Thanks for reading … although “long live the pirates” ain’t exactly what I was going for.

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