Sean Parker's Radical Idea and How It Could Change the Film Industry
Serial tech entrepreneur Sean Parker has approached Hollywood studios with a plan to allow would-be moviegoers to watch first-run films in their homes in lieu of going to a theater. This conversation has been had before, so this could be the beginning of a major shift or an idea that goes nowhere. Like the day-and-date release of Beasts of No Nation on Netflix this year, this could be a change the industry is not quite ready for, as evidenced by that movie's complete shutout at the Oscars.
Whether this company, The Screening Room, manages to accomplish its goals or not, it is worth considering changes that might result. Could this alter the types of movies studios are willing to make? Would it change the scale of the movies we appreciate? Is there any way that this is not where we are inevitably headed?
The first question is one of economics. Studios currently make a mix of tentpoles, genre films and prestige pictures. They strive to find a balance between these that will lead to long term profitability. Though box office receipts have never been higher, that is largely fueled by rising ticket prices and 3-D premiums. The fact is that less and less Americans are going to the movies and studios are constantly looking for ways to combat this trend.
Given the current trajectory, studios are reluctant to greenlight 'higher risk' films. This means audiences get more franchise sequels and comic book adaptations, at the expense of more original stories. Depending on how the revenues were to be divided between the studios, theaters and any in-home distribution networks, we could again see a radical shift in the types of movies Hollywood puts out--for better or for worse.
The second question is one of preferences. This could alter the movie-going landscape to the same degree Netflix has altered the television landscape with the advent of "binge watching" TV programs. The comforts of home allow for pausing a movie, rewinding and fast-forwarding, or even watching over multiple sittings. While these are all things audiences are free to do once a DVD is released, there is a certain deference to a director's vision for the first run of a film--like Quentin Tarantino's insistence on 70mm presentations of The Hateful Eight.
Perhaps the biggest difference between watching a film at home versus in a theater is the scale of the experience. Most are watching on televisions 60" and under and even more expensive home theaters are usually not on the scale the large multiplexes are able to offer. It is entirely possible that this diminished experience would lead to demand for a different type of film, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely worth considering.
The final question is one of inevitability. Is this where we will end up regardless of whether this particular effort is successful? Will the idea of going to a movie theater one day seem as antiquated as going to a library to check out a physical book? This feels like an almost certainty. In our fast-changing world of new technologies and instant gratification, it feels inevitable that the first-run film will one day be a much more personal experience.
Whether it is in-home viewing, virtual reality, or some combination, it seems like we are barreling toward a future where we will no longer gather by the hundreds to wait in line and stare at a single silver screen for two hours. Instead, our entertainment will likely be in our homes, in our pockets and on our faces, with more focus on on-demand content and instant accessibility.
All of these questions are intertwined, complex and nearly impossible to answer at this time. What is clear, however, is that these are questions that could become very important to the future of the film industry. The more conversations we have now on these topics, the less likely we are to be surprised when our new reality arrives.
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