And so the dance between the major studios and movie theater owners continue, and no, we’re not talking about the 3D glasses debacle. You might remember that earlier this year a legion of filmmakers — Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Michael Mann, Todd Phillips, Guillermo del Toro and more — issued an open letter to the industry in support of movie theaters, as the major studios were pushing a plan to make movies available on VOD sixty days after their hit theaters. Well, they tried it anyway. Launching on DirecTV, a handful of movies including "Unknown" and "Just Go With It" were made available for $29.99 to order up on your home theater system and basically, no one cared and the program flopped. The solution? Charge even more money.That’s right. It’s an idea hatched in Bizarro World, but THR reports that Universal will test the waters soon with a plan whereby customers can order up this fall’s "Tower Heist" for the rock bottom price of $59.99 three weeks after it hits theaters on November 4th. A few caveats though: this will only be available to Comcast customers and only in Portland and Atlanta (for some reason). It’s really just a small test to see a) who is brain dead enough to do this and b) how it affects the box office (if at all). So, would you pay $60 to watch "Tower Heist"?
Of course, that’s an unfair question to some degree. The thinking here is that instead of going to theater with your friends/family and paying $12/head, plus gas and popcorn and whatever else, per person, $59.99 could theoretically be a cheaper option if you just stayed in. But here’s the rub: at $60, it’s not like you get a copy of the movie when you’re done watching. It’s basically a super expensive rental. For those with families and excellent home theater systems, sure, we suppose this might work. But for the average everyday moviegoer? We think it’ll be a tough sell. $59.99 is simply a scary number no matter how you slice it and with audiences already fed up with the cost of movies as it is, we think the knee jerk reaction to the price will keep most people from ordering up at home.
For the record, Ratner, who actually signed that open letter in the spring, was not involved in the decision to take his movie the premium VOD route. But this battle is far from over. As studios look to try and find new sources of revenue as the home video sales/rentals decline, and as theater owners fight to hang on to their audiences while the window between big screen and DVD/Blu/digital release dates shrink, it’s going to get ugly. But charging movie audiences more for less, is not the way to go. People pay for the theater experience for a reason and as we’ve said before it’s up to multiplex and arthouse owners to make sure that the viewing experience is impeccable (fully lit projectors and properly framed movies would be a start). And on the studio side, trying to push audiences to stay home runs entirely counter to what makes taking in a movie — with an audience on a big screen with great sound — special in the first place. It seems completely counter-intuitive to try and reverse that. So let’s try some new ideas guys, instead of beating the old ones into the ground.