The Battle for the Cinema: Who has the Best Superheroes?

When you compare superhero franchises, it is safe to say that Marvel is currently the clear winner, but why? DC has been making movies for the same amount of time, but Marvel seems to only get bigger and bigger even as DC struggles.

SuperheroesDC and Marvel both are in the same genre, but both take their movies in different directions. In recent years DC has made most of their movies kind of dark in tone and theme. More of a realism, that your actions have consequences, and they kind of focus on the adult audience. Marvel, on the other hand, has tailored their movies with more of a lighter tone and they have more humor in them. They are movies that anyone can really grow to like, from young children to older audiences.

DC tried their own take on making their funny movie with the 2016 release of Suicide Squad, but the movie did not live up to the hype. You could not go anywhere without hearing the songs for the movie, or seeing a trailer for it. Another movie that came out around that time that was Marvel’s release of Guardians of the Galaxy. Not much was know about Guardians when it was released, but it grew quite a following. Both Suicide Squad and Guardians ended up about doing the same at the box office, but with Guardians doing a bit better.

SuperheroesAnother good pair of competing movies was DC’s Man of Steel vs Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World. Both of these movies came out the same year. The Superman movie was supposed to launch a new franchise, but the film did not do as well as hoped. The Thor movie did just roughly the same number, even though Thor is easily not the most popular of the Avengers.

Marvel has also done an incredible job in bringing all of their shows and movies together. All the shows that are owned by Disney are in the same universe as the movies. After the first Avenger movie, Marvel and ABC created the show Marvel Agents of Shield which took one of the characters from the movie and brought the show around him and Shield. This gave fans a way to keep their love of Marvel in check while they made new movies. They even had a cameo of Samuel L Jackson play Nick Fury at one point. If you want to learn more about it, you can find it here.

SuperheroesCompare it to DC where they have a flourishing TV shows like Supergirl, The Flash, and Arrow. Instead of bringing The Flash from the TV show to play in the movie, they hired someone else to play Barry Allen and never really gave the TV show actor a chance. This gives fans two different DC universes to like instead of one as a whole. Some fans may like one better than the other and might not support the other

I personally hope that DC does become more popular and will be able to compete at the same level with Marvel. Marvel is on it way out with some characters due to contracts and you don’t want to just exhaust a character.

-Joey Linder

Unlocking Disney’s Vault: Saving the Classics for the Next Generation

“Time is running out!

Soon your favorite Disney movie will be placed back into the Disney vault FOREVER!”

DisneyWell no, not really! Forever is a very strong word, and luckily Disney is smart enough to realize that permanent disappearance isn’t a great marketing strategy. If Disney actually locked films away to never be seen again, it would defeat the entire purpose of the vault, which was created so that its films would not be forgotten!

But why exactly did the vault strategy start? Well it all started with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White was released in 1937, and became a huge hit. Because of its popularity, Disney re-released the film seven years later in 1944. One needs to remember that in the 1940’s, there was no VHS’s, no DVDs, and no online streaming. If you missed the film in theaters, you might never get to see it again. By re-releasing it in theaters seven years later, a whole new, younger generation of children were exposed to Snow White all over again. Because the re-release was wildly successful, and a dependent source of revenue for Disney during war time, they continued the practice of opening the vault for many years to come.

With the 1980’s came the VCR, and with it, the opportunity for a marketing change. Releasing a film to VHS sales was a bit of a risk, and the first movie to be sold was Pinocchio. Though Disney was worried people would only buy the tape once and would pass it down, many people bought and kept their own and Disney decided to continue to release films from the vault not through theatres, but onto VHS tapes. This Vulture article talks more about Disney’s struggle to decide whether or not to release onto VHS.

The brilliance behind the vault-release strategy is the ability to avoid the cheapening of videos as time goes on. Normally, the longer a video is out on store shelves, the more the price drops. By Disney choosing to “lock up” and release from the vault every 7-10 years (per movie), Disney can charge full price for an older film!

Though making money is an important part of the vault strategy, it is not the only thing Disney is focused on. In order to maintain its popularity as time goes on, Disney realized they needed to find a way to stay relevant as new generations were born and previous generations aged. Besides continuing to create new content, they needed to find a way to keep older films recognizable to the new generations as well. The vault strategy has allowed them to do this, by re-releasing films to newer younger generations who had not been exposed to the films in previous years. This E! News article explains the generational strategy of the vault a bit further.

DisneyBut what does it take for a film to be allowed into the vault? Though there are no set criteria, generally there are no live action films, no Pixar films (with the exception of Toy Story 1 & 2). Some sequels are allowed in the vault, but not all of them.

As time goes on, Disney may have to rethink its strategy for releasing films from the vault as more and more movies become available for streaming. This should not be a problem for Disney, based on their history of changing from theatrical film to VHS tapes, to DVD/BluRay rather seamlessly. For a more extensive look at the vaults history and the entire list of films in the vault, check out this Disney fandom article.

-Madison Steffen

Not Seen and Not Heard: Is the Film Industry Ignoring its Audience?

Since 2012, women have consistently made up 52% of moviegoers, according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s 2016 report. Male characters, however, are seen and heard twice as often as female characters. Does this mean that male-dominated movies are out-performing female-led films? Are male-led films what women want to watch?

Research says no. Yet, scripts say yes.

There are institutes dedicated to analyzing female representation in films and one of the most respected is the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Other researchers concerned with the same issues can be found at Polygraph’s The Pudding, at Google, and at The University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab.

FemaleThese groups measure the representation of both genders by examining film dialogue, counting the number of words each character and each gender has. In addition, according to Google’s Gender Equality in Films analysis, new tools, like machine learning, have emerged “to detect different characters on-screen, determine their gender, and calculate how often and for how long they spoke in relation to one another.”

In a September article in Box Office magazine titled “Diversity in Hollywood,” author John Fithian cites important findings from the University of Southern California’s SAIL tool that analyzed 1,000 scripts, revealing that men had 70% of the dialogue, and that women played just 29% of the roles.

It seems as though male-centric movies keep getting written, produced and released, but are these male dominated films more profitable than female-led films?

According to the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, “films led by women grossed 15.8% more on average than films led by men.” Google’s analysis echoes this concept by comparing the average earnings of male-led films ($75,738,095) to the average earnings of female-led films ($89,941,176). These earnings translate to female-led films earning 16% more than male-led films.

If females make up the majority of a film audience, and if they support female-led films 16% more than male-led films, then why is there such a discrepancy in onscreen representation?

Here are a few examples of “female-centric” films, where female characters deliver at least 51% of the dialogue:

The Help has 92% of its dialogue spoken by female characters. The film opened with the 7th largest Labor Day Weekend gross, and its global box office totaled $217mil.

Bridesmaids has 82% female dialogue. The film’s global box office totaled $288mil, and is the #1 R-rated female comedy.

Inside Out measured 64% female dialogue. Inside Out grossed $858mil globally, and the film holds the #1 opening for an original movie. The previous record holder was James Cameron’s Avatar.

Female

These percentages were estimated by The Pudding’s 2,000 script analysis which can be found here. The Box Office Gross-to-Date estimates are from BoxOfficeMojo.

Each of the above films is from a different genre (drama, comedy and family), and the trend is apparent across the board. Female-centric films are profitable, and female-centric films are very different from films with a lead female protagonist. There are great female protagonists, like Rey from Star Wars and Anna and Elsa from Frozen, yet Star Wars has only a 28% female dialogue rate, and (surprisingly) Frozen has a 43% rate.

According to the The Pudding, though there may be strong, female protagonists, men occupy at least two of the top three roles in 82% of the film and this occurs in about 82% of the films analyzed.

This post is not suggesting a demise of male-led films, it only hopes to persuade the idea of leveling the playing field. This kind of research is a great first step, because there are already those in the industry measuring these concepts and identifying these issues.

Now, it’s up to screenwriters, producers and audiences to give women a voice and listen to it.

-Laney Kraus-Taddeo

DLC, Micro-Transactions and Loot Boxes: Innovations for Cold Hard Cash

It was 2014, and the finale to the Batman: Arkham games, one of the most popular series of the last decade, was just announced. Millions of thrilled fans went to YouTube to watch the Batman: Arkham Knight announcement, learning that Two-Face would be a villain. They also learned that if they didn’t pre-order this game they wouldn’t be able to play as Harley Quinn. Yes, they were pushed to preorder a game based a few minutes of video, which didn’t feature any gameplay.

gamePre-order exclusives are one of many ideas that the game industry has come up with to incentivize customers into giving their money away. Over the last decade the AAA game industry has come up with further innovations, not just to entice customers to buy games early, but also to gain a bigger profit. Sure, making games is a business and businesses are in it for the profit, but why are concepts like micro-transactions and season passes so common now in gaming?

In the beginning, the only way for companies to make money was through selling their game, make a new game and repeat. Most AAA games cost the same price, from a first-person shooter or a management simulator AAA, games usually cost $60. Why not just increase the cost of the game? For the answer check out Game Rant’s article about the subject. Truth is, companies are scared to deviate from the standard formula.

One of the first ideas for extra profit was to sell expansions, updates to games that add new content, usually for PC games. Not all of these updates are huge changes. Some content contains smaller additions such as cosmetic items or new weapons, to help keep players interested.

In the past few years, companies have been relying on DLC more than ever for a constant post-launch cash flow. There has been some debate as to how ethical these practices are. For example, some game critics argue that day-one DLC should be in the original purchase instead of being locked away until players spend more money. Yet, others defend these practices. There have even been some that have accused publishers of taking large amounts of content out of the initial game so they could sell more through DLC.

gameWith these new ideas being implemented, the AAA game industry transformed the idea of games being a single transaction product, into a continuous service that requires updates and new items, which in many cases the players must pay for. There is little downside to these DLC practices in the eyes of these publishers, because they usually take little resources and lead to a bigger net gain.

gameRemember the $60 set price mentioned above? Well, publishers started experimenting with different price ranges by releasing special edition games with more content. While the core game stays at $60, these special editions can go for much more.

Even with these additional avenues of profit the game industry continued to find ways of enticing gamers into spending more money with the implementation of micro-transactions in $60 games. For years, micro-transactions were utilized specifically for free to play games, where the player doesn’t have to pay, but the game’s progression is often purposefully slow to get them to pay for credits or items with real money in order to speed the game up. There is a large number of customers that are completely against the idea of these kinds of practices being featured in AAA games, and as the game industry has been using micro-transactions more than ever, the backlash against these companies has as well.

The success of micro-transactions has culminated in a controversial new business strategy that has taken the game industry by storm this past year. Loot boxes, a new form of micro-transactions where the player pays for a random item instead of getting to select one. This instantly began a debate between gamers as to how far was too far. There were many that defended these practices, while others voice their concerns.

For example, some critics argued that the loot boxes took advantage of people with gambling addiction. This was in light of the recent CSGO lotto controversy. A developer of the Lord of the Rings game, Shadow of War defended his game’s loot boxes by stating they were there to help the player. “It’s there as a player choice. It’s there, from my perspective, for people who are protective of their spare time and scared when a massive game comes along that they’re not getting to see the full experience. It’s the same design philosophy as us adding in difficulty modes. So now we have Easy mode, and we’ve added Hard mode at the other end of the spectrum.”

These are issues still being talked about today. An industry with a once simple business model, is now in a constantly evolving state where the next money-making idea is just around the corner. All of this has left a growing divide between publishers and gamers. There has been a growing feeling that customers are being cheated out of content initially because developers are focusing on expansions and DLC rather than the core game itself. Many would argue that these practices are only beneficial to the industry. Yet, this problem looks to continue as companies are finding financial success with these ideas.

There is little that consumers can do to change the minds of publishers like Warner Bros. and EA. There has already been a large amount of vocal opposition against micro-transactions, but there are always those who will side with the companies. Wherever there’s a profit the industry seems to go, and so the only way for gamers to make a difference is to talk with their wallets.

-Reese Stolte

Social Media Poses a Challenge to the FTC’s Advertising Guidelines

Assuming you’re not already reading this on your phone, go ahead and open up your preferred social media app. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, whichever you prefer. Scroll through and quickly count the ads you see. How sure are you that you counted them all? How did you determine they were ads? Did the post say sponsored by? How about #ad?

Unfortunately, you may have missed one or two, because a content producer didn’t disclose that they were getting paid for their posts. They might be monetizing their audience, without their audience even knowing it.

This issue is not isolated to one particular industry or level and even occurs with high profile influencers such as the Kardashians, one of ninety social media influencers and marketers who received a letter from the FTC noting their legal obligations to disclose material connections. Despite this, consumer groups are still claiming that the Kardashian/Jenner family is failing to disclose that some social media posts are possibly ads.

Social MediaBut unfortunately, the Kardashian/Jenner situation isn’t the most nefarious or outrageous when it comes to this problem. That honor falls to CSGO Lotto owners Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and Thomas “Syndicate” Cassell.

Before we get into what these two did, we need to understand one part of the popular first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offense, otherwise known as CS:GO. CS:GO has a well known and very successful micro-transaction business model that creates unique and rare gun skins for cosmetic use inside the game. And because the developer and publisher of CS:GO, Valve, created a marketplace where players can trade in-game items for real money they quickly became a pseudo-currency that could be used for gambling on websites.

Social MediaTo have a complete and total understanding of what CS: GO skins are won’t be necessary for the rest of this article but if you want to know more here is a handy article to learn more.

But back to Martin and Cassell, both of whom are popular CSGO players on YouTube and Twitch. The pair co-owned and operated a skin gambling website called CSGOLotto in which they actively promoted on both other creator’s platforms, but their own.

(Here is one of Cassell’s videos where he gambles on his own website.)

Basically imagine a Vegas casino owner hiring Brad Pitt to play at their casino without letting anyone know, and then sitting down at their own table and playing a few hands with house money. While this already seems bad, it’s made worse by the fact that the main audiences of all social media influencers involved are minors.

This situation has to lead to the first-ever complaint against individual social media influencers on the FTC which was settled September of 2017. With Martin, Cassell and the influencers, they paid to promote their website getting little more than a slap on the wrist from the FTC. You can see the settlement here.

“Consumers need to know when social media influencers are being paid or have any other material connection to the brands endorsed in their posts. This action, the FTC’s first against individual influencers, should send a message that such connections must be clearly disclosed so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions,” said Maureen Ohlhausen, the acting chair of the FTC, when the settlement was reached.

While there was a lawsuit over the illegal gambling which involves the CSGOLotto owners and the video game publisher Valve, there are no are legal or financial punishments for either Martin or Cassell for deceptively advertising their website.

For now, it seems, social media influencers will continue to give the FTC problems until an influencer is made an example of.

-Chase Danielson

Squanchtendo: A Novel Way to Doubt Your Own Existence

Hello dear reader, is this reality truly reality or is it just a simulation? Have you ever played a video game? If you haven’t, you can usually bet on a very similar narrative among most games. You start playing and you’re some hapless individual with an innate and untapped power that you’re about to master. A billion hours later and your character is now something akin to a god. This is what you can expect from playing most games because they’re just games. They’re made to give you something that you’re lacking in what you might consider to be your real life. Which brings us to one the black sheep of the gaming industry: The Stanley Parable.

Stanley ParableUnlike most games, The Stanley Parable is a game in which you are some poor schmuck named Stanley working a dull office job for all eternity. You have no power, no real choice, and nothing special about you whatsoever. The narrative is something that you make sense of and ascribe your own thoughts to. You have to find your own meaning and it allows you to reflect on what you may or may not be missing in your own life. This is a bit abnormal in video games because usually the narrative is grandiose and somewhat shallow. The stakes are normally through the roof and it’s up to you to save the world/galaxy/universe.

In 2016, a small game studio named Squanchtendo was started with the creator of The Stanley Parable along with the co-creator and voice of Rick and Morty. When the two creators collided they ended up with a virtual reality product known as Accounting. That game takes a similar approach to The Stanley Parable however the tone is darker and the narrative is much sillier.

Stanley ParableIn Accounting, you are a virtual accountant and you travel deeper into other virtual worlds. While in these other worlds the time you spend in them does not stop and you eventually come out of each one at a different point in time. You eventually make your way out of each of these worlds and the game ends. Which leaves you with the thought of whether or not this is reality and if you should try to escape it, the game’s ending carries over to after you’ve finished it.

It’s not just their narratives that makes these two creators unique, it’s also their business models. The first product from Squanchtendo was priced at the modest price of free. While this does reflect the small amount playtime it offers, it also is a product that fans definitely would have paid for. The Stanley Parable was also priced pretty low for its content which was around $15. The primary reason that these games are priced so low is that they are not being funded by massive companies.

Stanley ParableThese creators made a conscious decision to focus more on an individual story than a sprawling experience that the larger companies tend to align themselves with. The focus on a smaller more compact narrative has become a trend for indie developers in recent years and continues to be the case. Generally indie developed games have a smaller price tag to go along with the experience they’re selling.  Whereas the larger companies have settled on a $60 price tag on just about anything they put their name on.

At the end of the day they’re selling a product, whether it’s a six hundred hour adventure through the galaxy or a ten-minute-long reality-bending romp in your office. While it’s subjective which of these are better than the others, fans like myself can only hope to see more creators taking pointers from the little guys because you’re never too big to learn something. So tell me, do you exist or does it even matter? Are you a fan of any of these games? Does VR lend itself to video games enough to justify the purchase?

-Brigham Swanson

…And We are Back with Avatar: Here Come the Sequels!

After achieving the status as the highest grossing movie of all time, Avatar is coming back with four new movies to be released over the next few years. The second movie began production on September 25th of this year. Many have wondered what the next movie will be like. Will it take place directly after the first one, or will it fast forward, since it will have been eleven years after the original film came out?

AvatarThese questions have been answered with the addition of children who have been added to the cast. The word is that these new children will be playing children in the clan. Some are also supposed to be Sully and Neytiri’s children as well.

Along with the new cast, Cameron has revealed some new information about what the new movies may contain. In an interview, James Cameron said that the new movie is supposed to take place with Sully and Neytiri controlling the clan. He continued by saying that the clan will leave the forest and find new environments, including underwater and volcanic environments. The producers plan on focusing less on Sully and Neytiri, and put more emphasis on the children. In an odd comment, Cameron promised that this movie will make “you s**t yourself, with your mouth wide open.”

With the first Avatar movie raking in over $2.8 billion in the box office alone. Cameron and Fox have high hopes for the next four movies. Cameron originally only had a contract with Fox for two more, but after him and his team overwrote, Fox was more than willing to create two more.

The combined production for the four movies will be $1 billion. If each movie plans on being roughly $250 million each, then they are only spending roughly $13 million more than the first movie for each of the sequels. Cameron believes that the first movie was so successful due to its story. Most fans, however, liked the movie due to special effects at the time, and they thought the story was average or nothing special. It will be interesting to see how the new stories turn out. Will they be better than the first?

The next Avatar movie is expected to be released around Christmas 2020. Release dates for the other upcoming movies, are tentative.

-Joey Linder

Tuition Costs Suck, But College Students can Save on a Spotify + Hulu Bundle

The cost of college can be expensive, but the cost of streaming unlimited music, movies and TV is now more affordable for U.S college students than you would think. Just recently Spotify joined forces with the TV streaming service, Hulu, in hopes to gain more subscribers on both platforms, and create a new partnership.

spotify huluOn September 7th, these two different entertainment platforms officially opened up their brand-new deal, $4.99 a month for access to both Spotify and Hulu, for U.S college students only. This bundle is the same price for regular Spotify, but now you get Hulu added on for free through this new offer. Both companies continue to have their own separate apps, so there will be no technology integration, where you would see Hulu suggestions within Spotify’s app. So, in a sense, yes they are bundled together, but each still operates completely separated from the other.

In the past, Spotify has tried to push their original videos into the spotlight and grab their listener’s attention. But if you watch one of their original short episodes, you would understand why nobody would sign up to Spotify strictly to watch any of these episodes. It has long since abandoned those plans for combining music and TV. With this new plan with Hulu, Spotify may not need to start from scratch on their TV channel idea. We could be seeing something big in the near future with these two platforms partnership that has already been created.

SpotifyThe landscape in the music streaming business can be very competitive. When you look at the number of subscribers for Spotify (60 million) and Apple Music (27 million), however, you can see that this entertainment bundle is only going to increase their numbers and widen the gap between their competition. Apple hasn’t announced anything about what they might potential do in reaction towards this new bundle.

Hulu’s plan in all of this is to hopefully gain a larger number of subscribers and make a habit of students continuing to use Hulu after they graduate college. By getting access to Hulu for free, students will get introduced to streaming TV and will hopefully enjoy the experience and want to keep Hulu. On the other hand, Spotify is trying to do a similar strategy. Students get half price to Spotify premium, but once they graduate it goes back to normal price. Spotify is hoping to draw in those students at a cheap price and access to Hulu and keep them once they graduate. Spotify is paying for all the advertising and digital promotion, while Hulu doesn’t have to pay anything. But Hulu is not getting any revenue by letting Spotify subscribers gain access to their streaming network.

With such a low cost, college students can get the perfect entertainment bundle with music and TV streaming ability. We will see if these two companies continue to share their networks and advance their market to more than just U.S college students. This entertainment bundle is nothing like we have seen before, and we will see if it works out for both Spotify and Hulu.

-Nick Langel