If you pay $14 to watch a movie in theaters, would you pay $25 to watch that same movie at home?
The biggest tech and media companies believe the answer is yes, and they’re now jockeying for position in a market that many in the industry are convinced will be the next big thing in entertainment home access to movies shortly after they debut in theaters.
It’s an idea that’s been around for a while, but one that always seemed to be a ways off. But with executives publicly teasing the idea and reports emerging of ongoing negotiations, it seems like the time may have come for a true home theater experience, movies and all.
Apple is the latest tech player to lobby Hollywood studios for early access to movies, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. A deal could let iTunes customers rent new movies as soon as two weeks after those films premiere. Usually movies are limited to theaters for 90 days.
“The whole idea of early release and the shrinking of the theatrical release window is inevitable”
That’s something nearly every streaming service or content provider is interested in doing. Of course, Apple wants to be the first.
“The whole idea of early release and the shrinking of the theatrical release window is inevitable,” Peter Csathy, founder of of the media consulting firm CREATV Media, told Mashable. “Apple’s been stymied in doing that, although it’s wanted to, because the studios haven’t been willing to give Apple the terms it wants. But Apple’s entry is inevitable.”
A deal like this would mark a huge change for both Apple and its competitors as well as the studios and cinema chains that act as movie gatekeepers. 21st Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures all confirmed interest in similar deals to Bloomberg.
According to Bloomberg, brand-new movies would be available on iTunes for $25 to $50. That’s a lot more than the price of one movie ticket, but the cost could be worth it in many instances: A family deciding between heading to the movie theater or staying in; someone who lives relatively far away from a theater or in a place that the movie they want isn’t showing.
What’s good for tech companies would not be good for movie theater chains. Taking the most popular new movies outside the theater could decimate profits for movie chains, which depend not just on money from tickets but on the popcorn and soda you buy while you’re there. Theaters would likely have to be cut in on digital profits for any deal to succeed, Csathy said.
Other companies, like the startup Screening Room founded by Sean Parker (of Napster and Justin Timberlake fame), have tried and so far failed to help this model take off. Even if Netflix, Hulu and others haven’t publicly disclosed any plans, executives like James Murdoch of the Fox empire and the studio chief at Warner Bros. are thinking about it. And so are consumers.
I would pay so much for a streaming service to watch new release movies at home
christmas pumpkin (@ersowalker) June 20, 2016
I can’t wait until you can watch all new release movies at home on demand. I would pay more $ per ticket for the chance.
Taryn (@spiralsofwhite) November 24, 2016
Even though companies haven’t yet taken major steps toward an at-home release model and consumers feel like they don’t have the option, the idea has been kicking around for a while. Indie movies that have trouble attracting big theatrical audiences have been released simultaneously on iTunes or on on-demand services from Comcast or other cable providers.
Those movies have generally cost around $15. The movie studios and tech companies are thinking bigger, with price tags around $50 for studio blockbusters that would be available two weeks after their release dates.
“The classic release windows have been collapsing anyway”
The idea is more attractive now, with ticket sales down at theaters and movies slowly heading toward other platforms anyway.
“The classic release windows have been collapsing anyway, and this is one way to turn that into a positive by making more money than the studios historically would have done from the home video market,” Jan Dawson, an analyst at the tech research firm Jackdaw, said.
As for Apple, it’s anxious to make some headway in the movie business beyond its basic iTunes presence.
“For Apple to do that effectively, it’s got to ‘think different,’ if you remember the slogan,” Csathy said. “Apple has to do something big. Shrinking of the theatrical release windows seems to be the thing.”
There are still a lot of questions surrounding both sides of a deal. For one thing, media executives who haven’t quite forgiven Apple for destroying the music business might be reluctant to take the same risk on movies.
“Studios are talking to all of these services,” Csathy said. “They’re talking to everybody about shrinking theatrical windows. I’m skeptical Apple will be the first to win that prize. The media business in general is still reeling about how Apple over a decade ago disrupted the music industry.”
If not Apple, there’s Amazon, DirecTV, Comcast and the other services that let customers pay per movie. Then there are the bigger-name subscription options a.k.a. Netflix which could deviate from the subscription-only model for something as major as brand-new movies.
Csathy thinks the most likely contender is Hulu, because it’s not as scary to media traditionalists as Apple and media companies are investors in the service.
Even if Apple is the one to win the ultimate prize, its competitors would follow.
“Apple might be the pioneer in this, but others would emulate it,” Dawson said. “Amazon, Google and others would follow suit.”
Get the popcorn ready.