Entertainment

A Mortal Strike to the Multiplex?

Developments in home entertainment entice more and more (and more) consumers

Technological improvements have always been a threat to the traditional moviegoing experience. The internet gave way to massive movie piracy and expanding video on demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime allow for a handful of films every year to skip theaters entirely.

While box office dollars have remained relatively steady, there’s no doubt continuing advances in video on demand will soon change the economy of multiplexes. Bloomberg recently reported that Apple is pursuing deals with major production companies to release big-budget movies onto iTunes for purchase only two weeks after a theatrical debut.

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The window between theater runs and a digital release is already shorter than ever for films. If you miss a movie in theaters, you can typically score it from home for a fraction of the cost of a ticket only three or four months later.

iTunes already offers many smaller films for purchase while they play in theaters, but big-budget movies have yet to take advantage of such an opportunity. This new deal would certainly change that as Apple is reportedly speaking with interested studios such as Warner Brothers (this year’s “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad”), Universal Pictures (“Jason Bourne”), and 20th Century Fox (“Independence Day: Resurgence”).

The main setback to the deal is the concern for giving way to further movie piracy, should major releases debut too early on the internet. Apple is currently working on safeguards that would help protect against this. 

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The Apple news comes on the heels of the announcement of Screening Room earlier in the year. Still in the early stages of development, the venture is from Sean Parker — an entrepreneur who shook up music distribution when he introduced the free file-sharing website Napster in 1999.

The decision of how people consume newly released movies is increasingly in the hands of paying customers.

The idea behind Screening Room is that people can order a set-top box for $150. Through that box, they can pay $50 to watch new releases while those films are still in theaters. The idea may sound far-fetched, but it has attracted the support of many influential Hollywood voices. Stakeholders in the venture include Steven Spielberg (“Jaws,” “Jurassic Park”), J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), and Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings” trilogy).

Not surprisingly, the National Association of Theater Owners did not take too kindly to the announcement of Screening Room earlier in the year, saying in a statement, “Those models should be developed by distributors and exhibitors in company-to-company discussions, not by a third party.”

The old guard may not appreciate the new competition or developments in technology threatening an age-old economy, but the news about Apple’s negotiations suggests the domination of theater chains in film distribution could be on borrowed time.

If the Apple deals go through and Screening Room winds up making agreements with major movie studios, the decision of how people consume newly released movies will be in the hands of paying customers.

Considering the wild popularity of video streaming services like Netflix, there’s a good chance consumers will opt to watch their entertainment at home.

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