While it might be hard to believe, Hollywood has long viewed the TV with suspicion, fearing that the “box” (now screen) in the living room would destroy the “movie business.” Since the early 1950s, when theatrical films began airing on TV, theater owners/operators have worried that if viewers could watch movies at home it would mean empty seats in the theaters.
Hollywood fought back in the late 1950s and early 1960s with a variety of gimmicks including 3D and CinemaScope – the former still being seen by many as a gimmick (James Cameron excluded) while the latter is why movies went widescreen and caused years of that dreadful “pan and scan” effect. However, none of that was enough to slow down TV or home entertainment.
But with each new invention such as pay cable, the VCR, Laserdisc, DVD, high definition Blu-ray discs and, of course, streaming video, Hollywood has fought back, claiming it will be run out of business. Of course, time has proven that its concerns were a little overblown. Rather, these instances actually filled studio coffers with new revenue streams. Moreover, none of those aforementioned formats or technologies ever threatened to see first run movies bypassing theaters.
But now, perhaps theater owners have something to genuinely worry about as California-based Prima Cinema has developed a new system that could distribute theatrical run movies at home. For viewers, this means no sticky floors, no uncomfortable seats and no annoying patrons who talk back to the screen (you know who you are). And it also means no waiting for pay-per-view, Blu-ray/DVD or Netflix to see the latest movie at home. Prima Cinema is looking to deliver theatrical run movies that can be streamed at home even as they play at the local multiplex.
This will come at a cost however.
Wait a few months and the Blu-ray disc will set you back around $25. But if you want to see it the same day it arrives in theaters, it will cost you $35,000 for the player and biometric device, then $500 for each movie – enough to make the $15 movie theater tickets in New York City look like a bargain.
The concept here is that Prima would encode the film prior to the wide theatrical release and make it available to the Prima Cinema Player in a subscriber’s home. This would provide a theatrical-quality 1080p resolution digital copy to be stored on the player’s hard drive, ready to be viewed for at least as long as the film is in wide release. Of course, the studios wouldn’t want this system to be used by digital pirates, so each player would reportedly use a biometric security device that would “watermark” the films. Should it be copied, even with a camcorder, the watermark could identify the source. As planned, movies couldn’t be copied and could only be shown within a residence.
The question is whether there would be an audience for these movies at $500, but apparently there is at least the perception that an audience exists, because the system is garnering interest from some big names including Best Buy, Universal Pictures and venture capital firm Syncom Venture Partners.
The pricing, which is far in excess of the $60 that was to accompany the same day release of Tower Heist until theater owners managed to get the project nixed, is certainly aimed at a particular clientele – namely rich movie buffs who work at Hollywood studios or venture capital firms. And if $500 a film sounds unreasonable, consider that for just $20,000 you can get a full year’s subscription and enjoy multiple first run films – provided somone ponies up the $35,000 for the hardware, anyway.
The latter option could be popular if individuals get a “pool” of friends together and create a club. Considering the cost of going to the movies, it might only take getting 20 buddies to each chip in $1000 to see movies throughout the year at a friend’s home theater. But the question still remains: will enough content be provided to make this viable?
Aside from Universal, movie studios haven’t exactly been crawling over each other to get in line, so until that happens, and the price structure becomes a clearer (or more affordable), we should probably plan on continuing to wait – either in line at the theater or for a Blu-ray release.