This is an idea that’s been bounced around a number of times over the last 5+ years, although it seems like conversations about it are starting to be had more frequently and more seriously. So I believe it’s likely only a matter of time before mutually-acceptable agreements between studios and theater chains are worked out and the idea finally becomes a reality for movie-watchers.
I remember a similar proposal was first introduced about 6 years ago, when a few Hollywood studios expressed interest in the possibility, but nothing happened beyond just the conversation (at least, nothing that was made public).
Then early last year (2016), it became a consideration again, with a famous disrupter spearheading the movement.
Specifically, Napster co-founded and Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, launched a new company called The Screening Room, which, as was said when the announcement was first made, would make movies available for home viewing at the same time that they are in theaters, for a $50 rental fee, after some one-time set up costs.
Parker and Screening Room co-founder Prem Akkaraju (who is also CEO) were reportedly shopping the possibility to Hollywood studios, and, apparently, some were interested.
In short, the service would use the company’s secure anti-piracy set-top boxes which the consumer would pay $150 for, which would allow them to then rent and watch at home, any movie that are in theaters, for a $50 fee (available for 48 hours), violating the standard 90-day theatrical window for movies before they move to the home video market (including streaming).
At the time that The Screening Room found serious interest from Universal, Fox, and Sony. The company was also hoping to work with theater chains, who would be most hurt by this shift were it to become mainstream, by offering customers two tickets to see the movie they rent at home, in theaters, should they choose to do so. The Screening Room also proposed giving theater chains a piece of the $50 rental fee – as much as 20%.
That was in March of 2016. No word on any further development on The Screening Room since then.
Then in December of 2016, we reported that Hollywood studios were, once again, considering offering audiences what they called “high-priced home rentals,” but instead of making the movies available at the same time that they open in theaters, under the proposed plan, films would hit the home rental market in as little as 2 weeks after they debut in theaters.
Cost per film would range from $25 to $50.
Kevin Tsujihara, head of Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. unit, said, “We’re working with them [the theaters] to try and create a new window… But regardless of whether it happens or not — whether we are able to reach that agreement with them, we have to offer consumers more choices earlier,” speaking to the need to meet the audience’s growing anytime/anywhere demand for content.
Universal Pictures was also said to be in the mix.
That was 3 months ago.
Skip ahead to this week, to a Variety exclusive report that claims that 6 out of 7 Hollywood studios are in discussions with exhibitors to finally move forward on some kind of at-home/day-and-date service that would offer theater owners (typically the hold-outs in these discussions) a percentage of digital revenues if they agreed to let them debut films on-demand for $50 a rental, about 2 weeks after they opened in theaters.
So this is pretty much a continuation of the December announcement.
At the moment, the debate among studios and theater owners is how much to charge consumers for on-demand rentals, and how wide the window should between the film’s theatrical opening and when it becomes available on-demand for customers who would rather pay to watch at home.
Variety warns that while progress is certainly being made on this front, and there’s definitely aggressive interest in some at-home/on-demand service that’s either concurrent with theatrical, or soon thereafter, no deal is imminent, adding that, “Theater owners are engaged in the talks, and they’ve spent million of dollars researching consumer behavior. They’re particularly concerned that if movies are offered to consumers too early and at too low a price they will stop showing up at the cinema.”
And there’s ultimately why a deal hasn’t happened after several years of talks.
But the basic idea isn’t exactly a new one. Indie distributors like Magnolia – and we can even add Netflix and Amazon to the growing list – have released new films in theaters and at home (via streaming) simultaneously. Also, you might recall when, in 2011, “Tower Heist” was offered as an on-demand rental option to Comcast customers at a cost of $59.99. Universal, the studio behind the movie, called it a “test,” but it didn’t win customers over, as most ended up seeing it in the theaters. I don’t think the test was a failure; if anything, I’d say that Universal should’ve learned that customers weren’t willing to pay $59.99 to watch “Tower Heist” at home (while it was in theaters). There’s likely a price-point that will start to win customers over, and $59.99 isn’t it. It could also depend on the movie; maybe $59.99 was seen as too much to pay for the privilege of watching “Tower Heist” at home (while it was in theaters), but maybe there are those who would gladly pay that amount to see some highly-anticipated Marvel superhero movie.
What’s different this time I suppose is that, again, there seems to be more of a concerted effort to reach some kind of solution that pleases everyone, including the audience. Sean Parker’s The Screening Room wants to make the idea more permanent, via the $150 proprietary set-top box, and open up the platform to all studio releases, including the mega blockbusters, and not just *smaller* indie films. I would also assume that the $150 set-top box being proposed by The Screening Room will be more than just for the service of streaming movie releases. It may be an initial entry into your home that would then evolve to become much more than that – maybe gaming will be added; and The Screening Room may also produce its own original content.
The 2-week window proposal between theatrical premiere and home rental is also up for consideration. And I’m betting that there will be other ideas on how best to approach this conundrum before a final agreement is reached.
Although, 6 years later, it’s still uncertain whether this is something that will be embraced by a large enough audience to make it worth the effort. But I suppose it’s worth a try, especially as a lot more of us are streamers today than there were in 2011.
How do you all feel about this? Will you want to pay $30 to $50 to see the next Marvel or “Star Wars” movie at home, instead of going to the theater for a significantly lower price? TVs are becoming increasingly larger and more capable, and even quite affordable; one’s own mini home theater certainly won’t replicate the theatrical experience in full, but maybe it doesn’t have to. I imagine for families living in cities like New York or Los Angeles, where movie tickets are $15 each, paying $30-$50 for an at-home rental, whether on the same day as the theatrical release, or 2 weeks later, may be an attractive option. It doesn’t have to be permanent. I foresee a mix of the at-home experience and the theatrical experience, once the at-home solution (whatever it may be) becomes a reality. So sometimes we’ll go to the movies; other times we’ll stay at home and bring the movies to us. Ultimately, I guess it’s about having the options to consume content however, and whenever we want.