Today in movie studios' half-witted attempts to make themselves obsolete: They're moving forward as quickly as they can to cut theaters out of movie-going equation. The New York Times has a solid rundown of the fallout from an FCC ruling that allows studios to stream copy-protected movies directly to your TV. For now, the plan is to have movies available on-demand shortly after they premiere in theaters, but I'm guessing that token delay won't last long. The CliffsNotes version:
Right now, theaters get an exclusive period—120 days, on average—to serve up new movies. Then the releases appear on television video-on-demand services at a price of about $4.99. Armed with the new copy-blocking technology, studios want to offer new movies on video-on-demand services about 45 days after they arrive in theaters, for a premium price of $24.99.
On one hand, it's easy to see where studios are coming from: They see a revenue source that isn't being tapped, so—just like all of us when we see something we want that isn't being tapped—they want to go after that shit.
On the other hand, it's like my urologist always tells me: Just 'cause
someone something can be tapped doesn't necessarily mean you should tap it.
Granted, I don't know shit about business—but I can't be the only one who sees this as being pretty short-sighted, right? The power major studios wield at this point is twofold: Their ability to finance expensive films, and their ability to distribute them to every multiplex in the world. But most major studios have already started to split and share production costs of big pictures with smaller investors. And if studios are intent on reducing theaters' roles in their distribution plans, that takes away even more of their sway. If you're a filmmaker, and assuming you're not making something that's ungodly expensive—like, say, Transformers 3 or something—what's the point of going through a big studio if, ultimately, they're just going to offer you the same VOD distribution that smaller studios like IFC already focus on?
So studios might lose some of their importance in the long-term from this, but so it goes: Go ahead, fuckers, dig your own graves! Castrate your distribution model, release "copy-protected" VOD stuff that'll no doubt be pirated all over the place, and stop shoving stuff like this at me in the meantime.
But movie theaters, I suspect, are the ones really getting the shaft here. Don't get me wrong: No matter how accessible films get, and no matter how slick our 1080p TVs are, people still like to leave the house and do stuff, and going to movies—even stupid ones about stupid owls—is a fun, easy way for us to leave our filthy homes and briefly forget about how crappy our lives are. I think theaters will always be around, even as actually going to them becomes more and more of a novelty. That said, the rise of VOD will no doubt affect the revenues of both first- and second-run theaters, probably in a pretty major way. I won't be sad to see obnoxious, expensive places like Regal Cinemas take that hit, but it does bum me out that theaters like the Laurelhurst, the Roseway, the Academy, and more will likely see less money coming in because people can get these films earlier and easier at home.
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