‘The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings’

June 1, 2007
I, for one, am going to buy a 50 in. LCD HDTV when prices hit the $1000 level. And I bet that someone will have figured out by then how to give me all the opera I can stand when I want it and at a price I’m prepared to pay.

If you are a typical red-blooded American male, you may recently have been contemplating the purchase of a large-screen high-definition TV (HDTV). Sports programming and most manufactured DVDs look terrific on an HDTV set and the broadcast and cable channels are slowly increasing their higher-quality HD content as required by the FCC. Surely is the time to lay siege to the local Best Buy or Circuit City? But, wait! Display technologies and mass-production methods are improving by leaps and bounds. Prices of 50 in. plasma HDTVs are now in the $1500 region and I predict that they will drop to $1000 by the end of this year, and to $500 by 2008. A 40 in. LCD television is already under $1000 and will also be under $500 by 2008. Picture quality of the big LCD screens has surpassed that of the plasma models, and brightness is catching up rapidly. Nonetheless, I fearlessly predict that plasma TV will be the Sony Betamax of TV and will be fading out by 2010. So my advice is to keep looking. As you may know, the fat lady often sings quite terminally, well before the end is nigh. But “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.” I’m sure you’ve heard that line many times, in operas or in sports.

Speaking of operas, there’s a somewhat disturbing trend going on among certain New York purveyors of substantial singing ladies (and somewhat tubby gents). On one recent wet Saturday afternoon, I found myself sitting, not in the luxuriously plush velvet and gloriously gilded auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York’s Lincoln Center, but in a somewhat seedier and rather smelly and popcorn-infested local movie theater preparing to watch Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, live by satellite from New York City on the big screen (and at ear-numbing volume). Yes, New York City! But, live? I don’t think so. Not quite.

It turns out that the Met has decided to take a leaf or two out of the pro-wrestlers’ playbook and show operas in cinemas, generally at times when the regular movie business is remarkably slow. So these crafty impresarios are offering cinema showings to the great unwashed public who either have the salutary misfortune of not living within driving distance of New York’s Metropolitan Opera House or not having the necessary cash (typically $85 to $400) to buy the Met’s exorbitantly priced tickets. At $18 a head in the movie theaters, this is not necessarily a bad thing for the proprietors, you understand. But for us opera fanatics?

Ah, but there’s lots of gold in those cinema opera-goers. Take a look at the numbers. The product delivery is furnished by National CineMedia’s satellite-based Digital Content Network (DCN). Located in Centennia, CO, the CineMedia folks claim to have some 850 movie theaters in their network. However, on closer inspection, it turns out that, as of now, only 119 theaters are capable of presenting a “live” high-definition (HD) event and another 173 can present the far-less-desirable standard definition (SD) programming. Nonetheless, this adds up to about 93,000 seats available nationwide. If we assume 80 percent occupancy at $18 a head, that’s about $1.4 million per show. “Dat’s a nice piece a change,” as Tony Soprano would say. And, of course, even sophisticated opera buffs will happily crunch sacks of popcorn and slurp buckets of soda, as I can only too-painfully attest. But, “it ain’t over,” etc.

To return to the prices of HDTVs-you can see that the appeal of the movie theater for operas and other “live” events is going to go away as HDTV technology advances. I, for one, will only consider buying a 50 in. LCD television when prices hit the $1000 level, most likely in early 2008 when the “big box” stores try to unload all the HDTV’s they couldn’t sell during the holiday season. And I bet that someone will have figured out by then how to give me all the opera I can stand when I want it and at a price I’m prepared to pay. Financial partners for starting an opera cable-TV channel, anyone? Did I see the rather zaftig lady in black at the upper balcony at the back tentatively raise her hand? Speak up, please, madam!

About the Author

Jeffrey Bairstow | Contributing Editor

Jeffrey Bairstow is a Contributing Editor for Laser Focus World; he previously served as Group Editorial Director.

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