While the box office had a record setting, $11 billion dollar year in 2015, that number obscures the fact that audience attendance has been stagnant for a while now. The major movie studios have long been trying to figure how to tap into an audience that would prefer to #Netflixandchill than leave the house, find parking, pay outrageous amounts for concessions, only to have someone talk through an entire movie. A few years ago, a program was launched on DirecTV that allowed subscribers to rent a movie, 60 days after they hit theaters, for $29.99. It quietly came and went. In 2011, Universal attempted to make the Ben Stiller comedy “Tower Heist” available to order at home just three weeks after it opened for $59.99, but theatre owners threatened to not screen the movie at all if the studio pushed forward with initiative, and the plan was scrapped. But now, the idea of super-premium VOD is being floated once again.
Sean Parker, who has Napster and Facebook on his resumé, is now part of a startup called The Screening Room, and they have a plan that sounds very familiar. Right now, they are visiting studios in Hollywood and pitching their streaming solution that would require customers to first purchase a $150 box, which would then give them access to day-and-date rentals of Hollywood releases for $50 a pop. Hoping to sweeten the deal on both ends, The Screening Room is promising studios $20 of that $50 price tag, while customers will get two free movie tickets with their rental, which is aimed at keeping theater owners happy.
According to Variety, there is “serious interest” in this idea from Universal, Fox, and Sony, and The Screening Room is apparently close to closing a deal with AMC, who if their acquisition of Carmike goes through, will be the biggest theater chain in the country. But, does this program make sense?
If you’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a movie, there’s a particular brand value associated with the theatrical experience. One could argue that the excitement of an upcoming Marvel or “Star Wars” movie, for example, becomes diminished if it’s just another thing you can order on television (and it may be why Disney is said to be uninterested in this endeavor). And then there’s the threat of piracy, and while The Screening Room is promising they’ll have technology in place to prevent that from happening, those kinds of vows have been made before by no shortage of industry types, and it usually doesn’t take long for a clever hacker to figure out how to break in.
For the consumer, this is certainly interesting, though not without its own hurdles. For people who already have an AppleTV, Xbox, Chromecast, or even a laptop, shelling out for another set top box isn’t exactly the most attractive option. That said, for families, $50 to watch a movie at home is far more financially reasonable than dragging the kids to the multiplex and paying $12-15 each plus concessions, parking, and whatever else. And even for a group of friends, pooling together $5 to $10 each to watch it on someone’s home theater system beats going to the mall.
On the flipside, for over 100 years, moviegoing at its finest and most rewarding is a social experience, and further eroding that unique element could have consequences on the industry and the value of feature length narratives that aren’t yet known. And even as art form, movies are served best being viewed on the biggest screen possible. Meanwhile, theaters like Alamo Drafthouse are showing that there is still plenty of life left in moviegoing experience, if you meet the customer halfway, and offer them something different than they’ve had for decades now.
It’s all early stages, and who knows if it’ll ever come to pass, but what do you think? Are you done with going to the movies? Would you pay $50 to say home and watch the next “Star Wars” movie? Let us know below.