By definition, summer blockbusters attract blockbuster-sized crowds -- especially on opening weekends. By the time the commercials start, the theater is typically SRO. Commercials? Yes, about eight of them taking over ten minutes to get through. Then, after a short promo for the concession stand and a Cingular commercial altruistically dressed as a "please turn off your cellphone" public service announcement, it's time for the trailers. How many trailers? Whatever you can fit into 15 minutes. It's about 8:45p when the scheduled 8:15 movie actually starts. That's a half-hour of my life I'll never get back. Lights half on, people talking louder than usual to hear each other over the soundtrack. Ugh!
Depending on the movie and the theater, every so often a very loud child asks a very loud question or very loud individuals talk to the screen with little or no regard to the rest of us. Watching a movie on 33rd Street & 2nd Avenue in Manhattan is like watching it in a busy restaurant. It just reminds me how much I hate the "experience" of going to the movies in a movie theater.
For $45 dollars, we get to snack on overly expensive food that will unquestionably shorten our lives, sit in an uncomfortable seat with hundreds of inconsiderate people around us talking to each other like they were in another world. The sound might be Dolby Digital, but the crowds are often so loud that the extra dynamic range and sonic quality are lost. And when the picture is digital, as it more frequently is, we can see pixels (as opposed to film where we see continuous tones) Yuck!
So when I will be able to watch a movie at home on opening day? How would I prefer to watch it (pay-per-view at a set time, on-demand or download-to-own)? And, what technology will be involved (set-top box, my computer, a combination)? The consumer electronics industry has been pushing home theater systems for years. I have a great one, when will I get to use it as a "real" home theater?
My friends at Comcast tell me "day & date" release, as it is known in the trade, is coming soon. There are no technical problems at all, just business rule issues. Comcast can distribute movies via standard definition pay per view today, they just need permission to do so. How much would they charge? That will be up to the movie studios and Comcast to figure out. How much would you pay? More than $25 and less than $50 would be a good guess. What about day & date releases in HD? Harder, but not impossible -- again, the technical issue is way easier to solve than the contractual issues.
Which begs the question, when will I be able to "download-to-own" a movie on the day & date of release? As a practical matter, you can do it today; only it's not legal.
A legal download of a movie premiere is problematic on many levels. Again, there are no technical issues, but here the business issues are far more difficult to deal with. What will people do with these files?
You could argue that for a marginal movie, you could make more money on the day of release because the hype machine is in full gear. One could also argue that distributing files would completely kill the DVD release window and might make other distribution windows less profitable. This is more of a case-by-case marketing decision than a hard, fast rule-based one. Some movies will do much better being pushed out the door. Others (better, more popular ones that find a real audience) will do worse.
So for now, I am resigned to the old-fashioned, very sub-optimal theater-going experience of my local 15-plex. By the way, if any movie studio execs are reading this, almost everyone I know is willing to pay almost any reasonable amount of money on opening day, if you'll just let us watch at home!
Shelly Palmer is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group LLC and the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV (2006, Focal Press). Shelly is also the president of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY, vice-chairman of The National Academy of Media Arts & Sciences and he oversees the Advanced Media Technology Emmy® Awards. You can read Shelly's blog at http://www.shellypalmerblog.com. He can be reached at email@example.com