Would you pay extra to see movies that are currently playing in theaters from the comfort of your own home?
That may soon be a possibility and is a concept being discussed by the major film studios at the moment. A year ago Sean Parker (of Facebook and Napster fame… you know, the guy played by Justin Timberlake in Social Network) was pushing for Hollywood studios to get on board with a technology called The Screening Room that would allow consumers to pay a premium fee for home access to new releases. Here’s the gist according to a Variety article from last March:
“The company offers secure anti-piracy technology that will offer new releases in the home on the same day they hit theaters, sources tell Variety.
Individuals briefed on the plan said Screening Room would charge about $150 for access to the set-top box that transmits the movies and charge $50 per view. Consumers have a 48-hour window to view the film.”
It was a controversial topic with strong opinions from big name Hollywood directors and studios on both sides of the argument. The discussion is back at the forefront and now appears to be almost an inevitability. Many of the big studios are in support of the idea and are in disagreement only on the cost and timeframe that the movies should become available following initial theater release. Here’s a breakdown of the current opinion of each studio according to the latest report from Variety (via /Film).
The Mouse House is the only power player that isn’t interested in altering the existing structure – largely because they produce the types of films that consistently benefit from it the most. Marvel films, Star Wars movies, and big animated features tend to play well in long theatrical runs, so changing things wouldn’t be in their best interests. But for the rest of the studios, shortening the exclusive theatrical release window (which is currently 90 days) would give them a better bang for their buck in the advertising department. Instead of paying tons of money to launch a campaign when a film hits theaters and then dropping tons more to reintroduce audiences to the movie months later when it arrives on home video, a shortened window would let them save money and keep their film in the back of audience’s minds.
WB CEO Kevin Tsujihara wants to cut exhibitors in on digital revenues if they shorten the release window (the time when a movie exclusively plays in theaters) from its current 90-day period down to just 17 days. WB was initially looking to charge a $50 home rental fee for that option, but they’re also reportedly exploring a $30 rental fee to see a film 30 to 45 days after it opens theatrically.
WB and Fox are both open to different release patterns for different movies, which means “bigger franchise films that tend to have longer runs in theaters might be held back from release on demand.” Things like the DC superhero movies or an X-Men film could earn more in theaters, while smaller movies could bump to home video earlier once they’ve made their impact on the big screen. But Fox, who is looking for a 30-45 day release window, doesn’t like the idea of asking people to pay $50 to rent a movie at home.
Universal and Fox both think customers would balk at WB’s $50 initial asking price for a rental, so they’re pushing for a $30 fee instead. Universal is not as flexible about treating its films differently, so they want all of their movies to be available in the 20-day range.
Sony appears to be somewhere in the middle. They’re reportedly “in favor of an early on-demand debut that’s somewhat later than the one being floated by the likes of Universal and at a higher price point.”
As for the exhibitors, if they agree to shorten the release window, they want the studios to keep the window for lower cost rentals at 90 days. They’re also struggling to adapt to the shifting landscape, so they want the studios to try not to change the traditional home entertainment distribution model for between five and ten years. Again, no deal has been made yet, and the details on all of this are still being being hammered out. This whole discussion reminds me a lot of one we were having last year when The Screening Room first came to prominence, but nothing much seems to have happened with that in the interim.
It’s not a matter of if this will happen but when. Home theaters have been getting better and better in recent years, leading theater chains to come up with other ways to convince the general public to make the trek to a local theater. We have seen an increase in the number of 3D and iMax movies, better quality seating and sound, dine-in theaters, chains with actual in theater playgrounds (I kid you not), etc. Still with all of these perks causing the average cost of seeing a film to increase dramatically, a normal theater-goers is less likely to make the trip to a theater apart from a major tentpole feature or possibly films that generate award buzz. Why inconvenience yourself when you can just wait a see the movie on your at-home big screen for a fraction of the price from any number of streaming services, red box, firesticks, etc.?
It all comes back to money for the studios. To summarize what it says above, by reducing the current release model and having at-home viewing available much quicker following a theatrical release a studio can save on repeat marketing, can appeal to the crowd that finds it inconvenient to drive to a theater, and can still receive the monster opening weekends a typical blockbuster commands.
So that begs the question, would you be willing to pay $30+/- to see a movie 2-4 weeks following its theatrical release? For those who see movies alone that might not make sense, but for families or people who typically go in big groups to movies this could actually work out financially. Let’s look at this from another angle- outside of the major markets people may only get the opportunity to watch the huge blockbuster films in theaters since mega-plexes might not exist in their towns. What if you can watch an indie flick, or smaller drama/comedy/chick flick/etc. shortly after initial release in theaters as opposed to waiting and crossing your fingers that it appears on Netflix in 90 days? Simply put, there will be an audience for this change when it ultimately takes place.
Here’s my personal take on it. I’m a huge movie nut so the possibility of having access to a greater number of movies is very appealing. My wife and I have cut down on our date nights since my son was born nearly 2 years ago so this presents an option for watching newly released movies without having to leave the home. I also love to try to watch all the movies in contention for Oscars prior to the award shows and it’s not always easy to find some of the smaller indie or artsy movies in a theater by me (and I live in New York so I can only imagine the difficulty for other people). Add to that the fact that we could invite a bunch of people over to watch a movie (splitting the cost), avoiding the high price of concessions and more options available and the fact I already have to spend $15-20 per person in my area and I’m all for this moving forward.
What about you? Would you be willing to pay $30 for an at-home movie about 2-4 weeks after its initial theater release? What wold the price or timeframe need to be for this to make sense for you? Share your thoughts in the discussion board below.