It might be a little early to rejoice, but it seems that many major studios are in negotiations to reduce the time it takes to move top quality movies from the big screen to the home theater. The goal is to get movies from the big screen to the home theater in 30 days. This advance is only being made possible by the advances in technology and broadband, and will almost certainly require set top boxes that support anti-piracy and digital rights management systems. While the talks are ongoing, such an outcome does seem to be nearly inevitable at some point in time; whether it happens today, next month, or next year, this seems to be the future. No more expensive movie theater tickets, overprice tubs of popcorn dripping with deliciously unhealthy butter and additives, and half-gallon sodas that will require you to take out a second mortgage on your house.
Who is Involved?
It would actually be a shorter list to mention the major studios that are not involved, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the following companies are involved: Disney, Fox, Paramount, Universal, Sony, Time Warner, and even Viacom. Apparently the effort to renegotiate the exclusivity window theaters presently enjoy is being spearheaded by Time Warner, and Viacom’s participation may be critical given the company’s stance on online media distribution. Add to this the questionable tactics Viacom has been accused of using against YouTube, and their participation in the entire process seems to be motivated out of honest fears.
What Does It All Mean?
If successful, the results of this negotiation will probably be twofold: top notch DVD/Blu-ray content available 30-day after theatrical release, and on-demand/downloadable content available at the same time. The reason that these are separate concerns is that producing discs and preparing for retail is widely believed to take between 6 and 8 weeks, which means that DVDs will have to appear in China or other countries before the theatrical release. Our writers who have traveled through and/or lived in China can confirm that if it is in production in China, it will be on the streets in less than 48 hours, and on the ‘net shortly thereafter. This raises a huge piracy concern as it is entirely possible that home-release quality discs will be circulating through developing countries and entering piracy rings days or even weeks ahead of theatrical releases.
The obvious counter to this fact is to delay disc-based releases launching and offer on-demand/downloadable content first. With both movie theaters and studios benefiting from this type of arrangement, consumers would be well advised to continually monitor the availability of new on-demand channels; there would seem to be a very good chance that such on-demand channels would offer exactly what consumers want at price points that are yet to be determined.
Pricing is certainly up in the air at this point, but there seems to be a good chance that exclusive on-demand or downloadable content would actually cost more than comparable disc based content, at least initially. That premium might be lowered to fall in line with disc based content when those products actually hit the market. Then again, the price for any given movie might be the same across all formats regardless of release schedule.
Will Theaters Survive?
The past few decades have seen the entire theater industry become increasingly competitive and it is not clear whether or not any or all would survive. What would surviving even mean? Would they need to inflate prices of popcorn, sweets, and drinks even more? If so, it would seem to be a bad time for such price hikes given the economy. Are there other services or products that theaters could offer to increase their drawing power? That will be another question worthy of being answered, but it would seem hard to come up with any answer that could not be replicated in the comfort of the living room at a reasonable price.
In the final analysis, it is almost certain that a shortened theatrical release cycle is inevitable and that home theaters will be the beneficiaries of content much earlier than they have been in the past. Broadband is likely to play a key role in this, so being prepared might mean having the fastest broadband connection available. Similarly, broadband might be augmented or replaced by on-demand content and channels, so be certain to check periodically with your digital cable provider.