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Mark Cuban may be onto something

You know Mark Cuban. He’s the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, the founder of HDNet, the producer of movies and the owner of the Landmark Theatre chain, not to mention a thoughtful blogger extraordinaire.

I caught up with Mark the other day on my favorite TV show, AMC’s Sunday Morning Shootout [Cuban’s interview is not online as of this writing, but bits will be soon – way to be on the cutting edge, AMC], where he spoke to an issue near and dear to the hearts of Hollywood glitteratti – and one which I think has plenty of relevance for radio.

One of the key debate points in the movie business right now is the window between theatrical and DVD distribution. That window is about three to six months right now and it’s shrinking, much to the consternation of theater owners.

Mark has been one of the pioneers in the belief that ultimately that window is likely to be non-existent. That is, the movie will enter the theaters and the DVD market on the same day.

But isn’t this the kiss of death for theaters, especially with ever-more-bigscreen and glamorous TV’s popping up in living rooms all across the country?

Not according to the guy who has a big investment in the theatrical experience.

“You have to understand why people go out to a movie in order to make theaters more successful,” he said. “The idea of one-size-fits-all theaters will be a thing of the past.”

What Mark envisions are theaters differentiated for different types of consumers: Theaters for kids, theaters for teens, theaters for adults. Each with a different set of rules and expectations matched to the tastes of that group. Teen theaters, for example, would encourage TXT messaging and talking back to the screen. Kid theaters would be fun places to go. Adult theaters would have free help-yourself popcorn in one area of the theater and a full restaurant in another – no more “concession stand.”

People go to the movies – instead of staying in for the movies – to get out of the house, says Mark. For a date night or to escape the kids or whatever. So how do you make that experience more entertaining above and beyond the movie itself?

Mark’s thinking is obviously heavily influenced by his experience in Sports Marketing – which is some of the best entertainment marketing you’ll find anywhere.

So…what does all this have to do with radio?

Well, if you want to see a brand new movie and can watch it at home if you want, why go to the theater? And if you can download all your favorite songs, why listen to the radio?

“Movie-going is a social experience,” says Cuban. And you will go because going is fun. So he’s concentrating on making it more fun – for a variety of different audience groups. He’s concentrating on enriching the movie-going experience by adding elements that are not part of the movie itself and reinforce why you’re in a theater instead of at home.

Now theaters are one channel of distribution in a world of many. Just as radio is one channel of distribution in a world of many. The hot new song on the radio can be on your iPod in a matter of seconds – just as the hot new movie will eventually be downloadable in minutes. So why go to the theater – and why listen to the radio?

Because of what the radio station adds to the experience.

Because the radio station is more than the sum of its songs.

Because what happens between the records improves on the music instead of getting in its way.

You can look at the new world of radio in two ways: Either we should strip out everything but the songs and cut it back to the bare bones because that’s what people want. Or we should enhance the song experience with content that is every bit as magnetic but different from the stuff you can also download on your iPod.

Whether that takes the form of information, connection, or entertainment, we would be foolish in the long run to diminish our brands by slashing and burning them down to the kind of iPod that everybody likes and nobody loves.

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