Are movie theaters on the endangered species list?

Glen Wilson; Trinette Reed/Corbis

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?

Comments (75 total) Add your comment
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  • Stacie

    I like going to the movies most of the time. Midnight shows are some of the most exciting things in my life.

  • BG

    Call me as not in favor as yet another communal social experience gets cut down to a night at home with some popcorn.

  • B

    I find it difficult to believe that movie theatres will be gone everywhere. This is still something to be said for making a movie watching experience an event. Sure, I would watch first run movies in my home if I could but it’s difficult to replace the collective audience reaction to moments in film.

    • stephenKC

      If movie theaters were to disappear altogether, it would severely cramp a lot of dating scenarios. Imagine, “Hi, nice to meet you. Wanna catch a movie … at my place?”

      • Allison

        Ha! Good point!

    • FromChicago

      The installation is too high and will only appeal to the rich guy. $20 a pop is too high. I can wait.

  • LOL

    The movie theatre experience is mostly negative. If I could afford to install a giant screen in my home, I’d never go to a theatre.

    • PK

      What they got to do is IMPROVE the movie going experience.

      I want great sound, spectacular picture, and BOUNCERS and SECURITY GUARDS to get rid of unruly patrons!

      Also, EVERY THEATER should have special 21 AND OVER screenings of movies – not just Arclight.

      • Carmen SanDiego

        i agree with PK 200%

      • Ames

        Can you make it so they’re not freezing cold as well? In the winter I have to leave my jacket on (sometimes hat and gloves, too) and in summer I need to bring a sweater.

    • Bren

      I think that part of the problem is that people are so used to watching movies at home that they have started to treat the movie theatre like their home. They forget that it’s not. It’s a public venue and other people paid to be there, too.

      • dctoronto

        So true!

      • MCS

        That is a very very good point. never thought like that

  • Jay

    While I would love to pay $20 bucks or so to watch a new release at home on my TV, I dont think it spells the end for movie theaters.
    Maybe they scaleback a bit, but there will always be people who want to get out of the house for dinner & a movie.
    Also, kids would probably prefer catching a flick at the mall’s multiplex than asking mom & dad for permission to put Yogi Bear on TV for 2 hours

  • Caiti

    Boo. I wouldn’t go see Yogi anyway, but half the fun is GOING to a movie. The excitement for a blockbuster just laces the air, along with the smell of butter popcorn. America is lazy.

    • Shelby Coman

      I wouldn’t say we’re all lazy. Some of us just care a little more about our money. For my wife and I to go to a movie we spend $15.50 for tickets, $15 minimum for popcorn/drinks, plus minimum $30 for a sitter for a night at the movies. Knowing I dropped that kind of money on a movie immediately means it has to be one of the best I’ve seen. $20-$30 to watch the same movie at home without some rude idiot talking through it is a better deal.

      • Laura

        You still only spend $15.50 on 2 tickets?! Wow, where do you live?

  • dizzy snazzle

    I think we’re in danger of losing all ability to create revenue from entertainment like movies or music and that this is a step in that direction. It seems costly now, but eventually someone will come up with technology to render the service practically free and we’ll be having this debate once again. Also, the communal aspect of theaters is more crucial than people believe and will become a lost treat that older people will miss.

    • FromChicago

      Mark Cuban has been proposing this for years: simultaneous release on different media–TV, computer, DVD, theatre — to maximum the revenue. The only reason it’s not being done is because of theatre owners. Actually you can see movies free now if you get the preview passes.
      I have no problem with the simultaneous release.

  • don’t get it

    i would not pay that much to watch a movie the day it’s out at home. but i know that i’m probably in the minority. i also don’t believe in running up credit cards on bs stuff, getting mani-pedis when i can barely afford to pay my bills, and running out on black friday at 2 am to get whatever the media says is the latest “it” toy. I also don’t wait in line forever for the newest Apple product and then complain when those who waited get it for cheaper. I don’t understand these people that need to have the newest thing NOW. We’re a country full of Veruca Salts…

  • Heather

    F that S man. Give me a $10.00 movie ticket and a general audience any day!

    • nancy

      Hallelujah! Could not agree more.

    • elena

      As crazy as that sounds, I’m with you. I definitely remember seeing movies in theaters way more clearly than I do just sitting in my basement at home watching a DVD. Lametown USA. It’s about the experience, always less about the movie.

      • Pede

        The big blockbuster movies are just better on the big screen, in a crowded theater. The only movie I vividly recall watching at home was The Ring & I’m actually glad I didn’t see that at theater, considering I backed over the couch when she crawled out of the TV. Can’t even imagine seeing that at the movies, I probably would’ve moved back at least 3 or 4 rows…

  • Ry

    sounds like the definition of a double-edged sword. I love the convenience for movies that don’t matter quality-wise anyway on a big screen, but would Inception have been such a revelation to me had I not seen it on such a dramatically large screen? would AVATAR even be good at all if it was never on theater screens? Those questions should be redundant.

  • MiaS

    To this day I remember seeing
    The Empire Stikes Back with
    600 other kids
    (big historic theater) and all of us SCREAMING-NNNOOOOOOO
    when Darth said he was Luke’s Father and at the end of the film. Hans still frozen, Skywalker just got his new hand, friends all over the galaxy.
    No internet, no EW and certainly NO idea when the next one was coming out.
    That shared experience will never be duplicated at home.

  • ME2

    I’m with LOL. It is very rare for a film to seem worth paying as much for a ticket as the DVD will cost in 3 months. Not to mention even the cleanest theaters are disgusting and I can’t enjoy the movie because of those sitting around me.

    • LOL

      “…I can’t enjoy the movie because of those sitting around me.” EXACTLY!

    • MsSuniDaze

      I totally agree with both of you. There are only a few movies that I just HAVE to see in a theater (big blockbusters like Star Trek, Harry Potter etc…). It’s not the cost as much as the people. I’m excited to see the big movies…and love the feel of the audience. But for just a ‘meh’ movie… totally not worth it. I’ll wait for the DVD.

  • Ry

    Oh, and also, people say “ENTERTAINMENT” is a BS thing to spend money on, then wtf is the INDUSTRIAL MILITARY COMPLEX??? We spend 60 cents out of every dollar in this country building THOUSANDS of war planes and machines that will NEVER be used. And none of it is even worth it if a bunch of idiots with no technology, traveling on camels can wage serious war with us using our own weapons! Meanwhile, ART creates community, and unlike war, it has a REAL chance of inspiring peace.

    • outside agitator

      do you live in a one room cabin deep in the Montana badlands and wear a hoodie and sunglasses while hunched over your pc typing posts?

    • MsSuniDaze

      Wow… I didn’t think you could get internet service at your compound.

  • Marie

    In my lifetime I will not be going to enough movies to cover that cost. And just because I could get them, doesn’t mean I would want to watch it anyway. And also you can’t get the same experience at home, no hand clapping at the end, no random outbursts of laughter by 50 other people. Not the same!

  • jmo

    With the internet being what it is, why pay $20K when you can download a copy for free?
    I know, I know piracy is bad and all but many of us with kids can’t afford taking the kids out to a movie anymore (or not in the frequency we use to). I cut out my daily Starbucks run almost a year ago and homebrew before I leave for work. If it mean giving my kids a better Christmas by using uTorrent to download Mastermind or Tangled, I’m doing it. With HTPC’s only being $200, that’s what my friends are doing too.

    • Jack

      What’s a HTPC?

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