Are movie theaters on the endangered species list?
How much would you pay to see Universal’s upcoming big screen comedy Little Fockers at home, on your own TV screen, the same day it’s released in theaters? Would you pay $20? $50? Try $500. And that’s not counting the additional one-time fee of $20,000 that Prima Cinema, the California-based company that’s just announced this new, obscenely expensive super-premium on-demand home video service, will charge you for the hook-up.
Actually, as crazy as the price tag sounds, Prima Cinema, which has backing from Universal Pictures, as well as Best Buy, is probably the future. For a decade now, Hollywood has been inching closer and closer to simultaneous release of movies in theaters and home video, what’s called day-and-date. Some cable on-demand providers already offer limited day-and-date movies: Time Warner Cable charges about $7 to see indie flicks like I’m Still Here while they’re still playing at your local art house theater. Even for bigger pictures, the window between theatrical release and DVD release has been shrinking, and looks like it’ll be shrinking even more next year, when the major studios will supposedly be unveiling a new VOD window, between theatrical and DVD release, with a premium charge of around $20 to $30.
The Prima Cinema pricing model is obviously nuts — only a handful of households will be able to afford the $20,000 installation service, let alone the $500 per film charge. But remember, once upon a time, fax machines and digital watches cost thousands of dollars; now they practically come as prizes in cereal boxes. Prices are bound to drop — because the logic of day-and-date is inescapable, especially as DVD sales continue to plummet. For Hollywood, it’s yet another much-needed revenue stream, potentially a huge one. For consumers, it’s the ultimate convenience. Honestly, which would you rather do, bundle the kids in the car, drop $50 on tickets and another $50 on popcorn and Junior Mints, and sit in a sticky-floored theater; or push a button and have the same movie unspool on your wide-screen HD TV at home? Even at premium prices, most families would find the on-demand experience a bargain.
Of course, not everybody is a fan of the coming day-and-date revolution. Theater owners are understandably concerned about it cutting into their revenues. Filmmakers are worried that the communal aspect of cinema — the extra jolt you get cheering along with a couple of hundred other movie-goers — will become a lost cultural experience. In fact, the ramifications of day-and-date could end up being much, much wider. Keep in mind that multiplexes are magnets that draw huge numbers of customers into shopping malls. Once people stop showing up at the Galleria to see movies like Little Fockers, it could have a ripple effect that ends up crippling the entire mall economy. Or at least puts Sbarro out of business.
But what do you think, Popwatchers? Is the convenience of day-and-date worth it? Or would still rather see movies the old-fashioned way, with some guy with big hair sitting in front of you?