Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More Logic: by David Poland

(Photo: Kim Robeson, from Jim Emerson’s blog)

For those who may not know, David Poland runs Movie City News (MCN) and writes a blog called The Hot Blog. He is well known in the movie blogosphere, especially as a box office pundit. Though he is very popular, I don’t read him. Not anymore. I stopped a while back because I was tired of his heavy-handed style, self-important rants, attack pieces, sentences that often make little sense, and the repetitive nature of his posts. If you’ve read one piece breaking down box office minutiae and its implications for the industry you’ve read them all. What could be the point of reading his stuff? By my estimation, not much. 

The other day, though, for some reason -- I forget what, I ended up at MCN and decided to poke around a bit. At THB I found a blog entry that eviscerated the New York Times...again (Poland has a penchant for this). Well, I was there, one click away, so I checked it out.

He begins with typical posturing. “Oh, the irony,” Poland chirps, setting the table (although, for the record, he does not point out, anywhere in the piece, anything that is ironic. I’m sure he used the turn of phrase because it sounds smart, literate.), and continues, “The New York Times, since Sharon Waxman created the first fake slump in 2005, has taken a “get off of my lawn” take on Hollywood in pretty much every circumstance in which it has the opportunity. Whether it is the constant and misleading meme about the interest of Americans in going to the movies or today, The Oscars, there is a theme about young people abandoning Situation X, but almost no detail to go with a lot of alarmist writing.”

Poland refers to this piece at NYT.

Looking at his opening salvo I find a few problems (and suddenly remember why I quit reading this guy). Firstly, vague though Poland may have been, the slump he accuses Sharon Waxman of ‘creating’ must be the decline in DVD sales and movie theater attendance. Anyone knows this is not ‘fake’, and certainly not something Waxman created to spice up industry coverage. The decline is real, there’s no point in offering supporting evidence. A cursory examination shows the numbers are down. In fact, the DVD industry, once a mighty bastion of profit, has keeled over. (See: Blockbuster). To argue box office take, especially when you compensate for soaring ticket prices, is not in decline is a waste of time. So, Poland is off to a bad start. However, this is normal.

Poland continues with an inflammatory assessment of NYT’s reporting, which can be dismissed: They have a ‘get off my lawn’ tone, use misleading memes, their writing is alarmist, etc. Then, he says the piece in question provides almost no detail. I find this completely fascinating. How Poland can say Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply’s write up is lacking in detail is beyond me.

Take this quote, for instance: ABC estimated that this year’s Academy Awards broadcast, with two sparsely seen movies, “The Artist” and “The Iron Lady,” sweeping the top categories, drew about 39.3 million viewers, up 3.7 percent from last year. That’s about 13 percent of the United States population. Among adults 18 to 49, viewership was flat, at 14.9 million.

This lacks detail? It seems quite specific. Poland reiterates his point (repeating is something he does in almost every piece to plump it up a bit. Word count, and all.): “To start, these writers are very comfortable playing fast and loose with limited details. Gladiator‘s Oscar year, as a high point, was ELEVEN years ago. And it didn’t have 45 million viewers, as they use “about” to spin, but just under 43 million.”

He refers to this paragraph in NYT: In the 1990s and shortly afterward, when populist movies like “Forrest Gump” and “Gladiator” won top prizes, the Oscars telecast routinely delivered about 45 million total viewers. The high point came in 1998, when the telecast delivered a peak audience of around 57.3 million.

Again, these aren’t ‘limited details’. This paragraph is very clear and as detailed as you can get. I don’t see what bearing the fact that ‘Gladiator’ played ELEVEN years ago has. This is one of those things you get in Poland write ups -- an accusatory quip that’s pure smoke and mirrors. Not only is the sentence not clear, it’s irrelevant. NYT clearly states they are talking about the 1990s "and shortly afterward". Poland offers nothing which undermines the selection of this time period as a reference to illustrate that viewership of the Oscars is in decline, he only implies there is something suspect in this by using all caps. That, and that alone. A ploy which, perhaps, appeals to readers of his blog on a certain level -- those who must resort to visual cues to know when something is bad (or EVIL) so they don’t have to read for content -- but one which has no substance. (Again, for those who are unfamiliar, typical from Poland).

Continuing, Poland criticizes NYT for saying the Oscar telecast, in the year ‘Gladiator’ won, had 45 million viewers. That’s not what they said. They said that, in the 1990s, “the Oscars telecast routinely delivered about 45 million total viewers.” The NYT piece does not offer specific numbers for the year ‘Gladiator’ won, but Poland criticizes them as if they had.

This is another of Poland’s traits -- he simply twists the facts to support his grandiose attacks. As such, his attacks are unsupported. They are huge plumes of hot air, yes, but well-founded critiques they are not.

Okay, at this point, I’m going to skip down a bit in Poland’s write up. Then, I’ll backtrack. It makes more sense this way. You’ll see what I mean.

Let’s take this bit in which Mr. Poland defends the continuing relevance of the Oscar telecast and its importance in regard to box office success after nominations are announced: “Last year, five of the nominees were released before November. The November releases were 127 Hours, which increased its gross by more than 50% after nominations in late January...”

Here, Poland is in his element: Box Office Numbers. However, he is very selective. He somewhat misrepresents the impact of the nomination for ‘127 Hours’ in that he fails to mention the movie, though it opened in November, was in limited release at that time (an Oscar qualifying run) and was on just a few screens. It didn’t go wide until January 28, 2011. While Poland heralds the nomination as being so revered by the public that it resulted in a 50% increase in box office, the fact is the announcement came January 25, 2011 -- three days later (on January 28) it went into wide release. ‘127 Hours’ had not been available for mass consumption in the weeks leading up to the nomination announcement.

In its limited opening ‘127 Hours’ made $264,851 (from boxofficemojo). In its first weekend in wide release (Jan. 28) it made $2,136,801. To suggest the Oscar nomination announcement (of Jan. 25) was responsible for the increased box office take is ludicrous. What was primarily responsible was, of course, the increased number of screens the movie was on three days after the announcement.

You may wish to suggest the movie’s take was larger than it would have been had the announcement not been made, but Poland does no such thing. He simply touts the increase in box office as being a direct result of the announced nomination and, by extension, to be a reflection of the continuing importance of the Oscars. However, any movie, when going from a limited release of a few screens to a wide release of hundreds or even thousands of screens, may be expected to make, say, 50% more money. This would happen whether there was some kind of awards announcement related to the movie or not.

The fact the movie went wide a few days after the announcement it was an Oscar contender practically negates any perceived effect the nominations could have had on box office take. If the movie had been in wide release for, say, a few months when the announcement was made then, in that case, a 50% bump in box office take would certainly strengthen Mr. Poland’s contention the Academy was still important to the average person. This, however, was not the case with ‘127 Hours’.

Poland offers similar evidence of the boost Oscar nominations had for other movies however, for the most part, it is just as flawed as his case for ‘127 Hours’.

There may be wiggle room here. There may be a modest increase in box office take after a nomination announcement for one or two of the movies Poland cites, however, there are also movies for which the timing doesn’t work, just as it doesn’t for ‘127 Hours’. As such, Mr. Poland’s  point lacks credibility and examining each film he cites, case by case, is not warranted. So, I won’t waste your time.

Now, on to the last pertinent argument Poland makes: That viewership of the Oscars telecast has remained fairly constant over the last 35 years. He says:

The Average viewership for The Oscars in the last 35 years is… 42.9 million people in the US. Six of the last ten shows were within 10% of that figure.


IN CLOSING – The New York Times, like so many, are egregiously guilty of taking a bunch of small factors and FALSELY synthesizing them in to memes. It is a brutal reality in this era of media. And sadly, seemingly intelligent people like Tom Sherak come to believe these lies and fail to challenge them aggressively when presented with them by the media.


This is not Wall Street. The Academy does not need quarterly growth… or even annual growth. They need to maintain an even strain. And they have. A little up, a little down.

Here, Poland fails on a fundamental level. While it may be true that viewership of the Oscars has remained somewhat constant, when the increase in U.S. population is taken into account, it is clearly in decline.

Using the same reference Poland does, it would seem the telecast is doing okay. On average, roughly 45 million people, plus or minus, have tuned in every year since the 70s. Poland beats us over the head with this as evidence the NYT is alarmist and not to be trusted. However, simple math bears out the point NYT and many others have made: Interest in the Oscar telecast and viewership has declined every year going back, perhaps, to the 70s.

As a reference point, let’s start in 1974. ‘The Sting’ won best picture. The Oscar telecast garnered a (whooping) 68% share with 44 million viewers. Well. This year’s telecast got about 40 million viewers with a 35% share. About the same, yes? Mr. Poland says so. No. It’s not about the same.

In 1974 the population of the U.S. was about 215 million. The current U.S. population is about 310 million. If you haven’t already done the math, 44 million is 20% (I rounded percentages up for convenience) of 215 million, whereas 40 million is 13% of 310 million.

In 1974, 20% of the people living in the United States watched the Oscars. In 2012, 13% of the population watched the show. While the population increased by roughly 50% from 1974 to 2012, viewership declined by 7%. In 1974, the show got a 68% share. In 2012, it got a 35% share. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but the stats for 2012 were cited in the NYT piece Poland sought to undermine, and are excerpted above).

In order to indicate that interest in the Oscars telecast has stayed roughly the same over the past 35 years, as Mr. Poland vociferously asserts, the show in 2012 would had to have been watched by about 62 million people. (20% x 310 million people = 62 million viewers).

Conclusion any dolt would come to: Interest in and viewership of the Oscars telecast is in decline and continues to decline just as reporters at NYT and other sources (including just about anybody you might care to stop on the street) have said for years.

How it is Mr. Poland could not see this...well. There are three possibilities: 1) He is not as sharp as the average dolt or, 2) He sees only what he wants to see, twists what is known to fit his attacks, and hopes his readers don’t look too carefully or, 3) He doesn’t really care what common sense dictates even if the average person knows a thing to be true, and is willing to insult highly respected journalists at venerable news organizations from the pulpit of his movie blog just to feed his own self-importance or to give himself a reason to exist even if his criticism is ridiculous beyond belief.

While I continue to have no interest in David Poland’s inflated point of view, elegantly articulated though it may be, I have had a change of heart in regard to reading his work. I’ll keep checking his posts and, from time to time I’m sure, will let you know if I find anything interesting. It’s a dirty job but, in the interest of keeping the blogosphere from becoming any more of a three-ring circus, someone has to do it.

I suppose though, if pressed, I’d have to admit it’s not without its rewards.


No comments:

Blog Archive