Motion pictures are at the top of the food chain. They cost more, attract the biggest stars, have the broadest global market – and are about the riskiest investment in entertainment media you can make.
So it’s important to our entertainment ecology that movies get reinvented in a way that produces more good movies, at all levels of cost. It’s unfortunate that the major movie theater chains have become a roadblock in this process.
While the theaters have a perfect right to protect their businesses, they have not held up their end of the bargain in terms of innovation. By and large the movie-going experience is the same today as it was 50 years ago. Not enough parking. Fighting for seating at popular movies. Waiting forever for popcorn and overpriced soda.
While 3D and video projection has been creeping into theaters, those are largely studio driven innovations. However, recently Paramount worked with a few test theaters to offer a $50 ticket to see Brad Pitt’s World War Z two days early. In addition to the early screening, the fans got to bring some friends at regular prices and will get a Blue Ray DVD of the movie when it comes out. This is a step in the right direction.
Every other entertainment ticket guarantees you fixed seating, at differential prices. If the movies really are a social entertainment event, why not allow everyone to sit together where they want, as long as they’re wiling to pay for better seats? Works in sports and Broadway.
Why not have valet parking? How about streamlining the concession process, as one theater I went to in Evanston, Illinois did quite successfully?
The fact is, movie theaters are costing the studios millions in extra expenses and lost income. How? By delaying the release of movies into the wired world for 90 days, they greatly increase the cost of advertising those movies, which needs to be done twice at least. And undoubtedly many people who would pay premium prices to get movies at home while they’re still in the theaters, never get around to it later. The delayed post-theater release also encourages piracy.
It’s inevitable that the studios will chip away at the theaters’ window of exclusivity. The only question is, will the theaters step up and improve the experience and economics of going to the movies enough to offset any real or imagined losses to day-and-date online distribution?