One of the things that has prevented Netflix from totally taking over our lives is the fact that people still like watching newly released movies more so than being able to watch old movies on demand. So while Netflix is great for catching up on the great show you fell behind on, or binging on one of Netflix many original television shows, the service is of no good to you if you want to watch Star Wars the first day it’s out in theaters.
That may change.
However, it won’t be Netflix that’s getting the latest on Darth Vader. Instead, it will likely be a new start-up tentatively called “Screening Room,” which aims to bring newly released movies into a consumer’s living room.
How will it work?
It’s not rocket science. Essentially, consumers will have the option to buy a set-top box for the price of about $150, and whenever a new movie comes out, an owner of that box can rent the movie for $50, which gets them a 48-hour viewing window.
The use of the set-top box is meant to curtail piracy of new movies. While that’s certainly not a fullproof plan to stop piracy…it’s not like they can completely stop it anyway. And if anything, perhaps giving people an easy way to access the film will curtail some of the piracy they would’ve seen if the movie was only released in theaters.
Anyway, this sounds like a good thing, no? As a consumer, you could eventually have the option of going to the theater to watch a new movie, or you could just sit on your lazy butt and watch it from the comfort of your couch. It’s your world!
But they don’t want you to sit on your couch.
They refers to movie directors Christopher Nolan and James Cameron, who think that the current way of watching new movies should be the only way to watch new movies. Obviously, it’s hard to argue the success of these two directors, and their creative vision-making represents some of the best in the industry. But as we sit here today, discussing this topic, never before have their visions been so misguided.
First and foremost, it’s not as if people don’t have a number of ways to watch newly released movies from the comfort of their homes. There’s already a nearly identical service to Screening Room called Prima Cinema. It’s going rate is $35,000, but it’s a thing. Then of course, there is a lucrative bootleg DVD market on the streets of Manhattan, as well as cities across the nation and world. And dare we forget about the internet, where despite Hollywood’s best efforts, movies and television shows continually get uploaded and downloaded?
Second, with the prevalence of all these options to get new movies, why would anyone fight what is clearly a changing consumer perspective? People aren’t going out of their way to download movies online just because–their consumption habits have changed, and it’s ultimately harder to get them to consume media in a fashion that is arcane to an increasingly growing population of people that watch high production content, like Game of Thrones, on their phones. Hollywood, or at least the old guard like Nolan and Cameron, have to stop blocking technology and embrace it. The Hollywood studio model is already falling apart, because they’ve spent a decade trying to protect what they had instead of investing in a user-oriented, albeit somewhat risky, plan of attack on the movie business.
Lastly, if one truly feels that Screening Room will lead to the death of the theater business–well, perhaps you have a point. Not that I see exhibitors going anywhere anytime soon, but we can’t ignore the trends. Fewer people are buying movie tickets. The mid-tier movie has begun to vanish from the annals of success. And guys like Sean Parker are investing in doo-hickeys like these. So Nolan and Cameron might be right in saying that Screening Room could be the last nail in the coffin, but as that saying would allude to, it’s not the only nail in the coffin. And in this case, Screening room is not the problem, it’s just a product of the changing times. .
The advancements in technology have moved us away from an appointment-based viewing style, to one in which we watch what we want, when we want–and most importantly, we’re willing to pay for it in more instances than we were in the past. So instead of bucking the trend, Nolan and Cameron should be embracing technologies like Screening Room and Prima Cinema, and helping the industry find new ways to make money from audiences that are no longer willing to go to the theaters just because you throw a bunch of commercials in their face.
But this really speaks to a bigger point, and that’s the point that studios are in trouble. Right now, they have tremendous power, because content is currently king. Every Tom, Dick and Harry needs original content to put together on their “unique” platform, and so the prices are through the roof. But what happens when the platforms consolidate, or worse yet, if and when it becomes a duopoly-like experience? The price aggregators are willing to pay for content will go down. And if box office numbers continue their downward trajectory, and Netflix continues to outbid studios for movies at Sundance and the Toronto Film Festival, how exactly do studios plan to make money off of movies? Perhaps that’s a question best left for Hollywood to answer. They just shouldn’t let Nolan or Cameron lead the way on this one.