The FCC and MPAA are working together to bring first-run movies straight to your television. Could this be the beginning of the end for movie theaters? Some people are outraged, while others couldn't be happier.
One thing is clear: The head-honchos of the entertainment industry are tired of splitting revenue with movie theaters.
Should the partnership become a full reality, studios will have the right to release new films to your local theater and your living room simultaneously - allowing filmmakers a broader range of audiences, as well as crippling the monopoly on new releases currently enjoyed by theaters.
Obviously, should the deal go through, there will be a number of consequences, some good and some bad. Though some production studios are in trouble, it's not like the entertainment business, on the whole, is struggling financially. Last year we saw several new box office records, but as ticket prices rise (especially for 3D), many moviegoers continue to grow weary of the cost of a weekly trip to the theater - which rings doubly true for families, who might spend $100 just for a single trip to the theater.
It will be interesting to see how theaters attempt to counteract the upcoming changes. Will they lower concessions prices? Will ticket costs go back down? Or will they simply fold as a result of having the rug pulled out from under them?
The MPAA and FCC have enough power to shutter the doors of every movie theater - if they so wished. But it is still hard to understand their primary motive here. There's a fine line somewhere between maximizing profits and providing consumers with what they want.
MPAA Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman offered his justification.
“Many of us love movies, but we just can’t make it to the theater as often as we’d like. That is especially true for parents of young children, rural Americans who live far from the multiplex and people with disabilities that keep them close to home. Having the added option to enjoy movies in a more timely fashion at home would be a liberating new choice.”
He is right, to an extent. But it is tough to consider this as an "added option." Now faced with the opportunity to watch a movie for a (likely) flat fee, with no travel and last-minute concession costs, how is this even a question for a majority of casual entertainment crowds? If you ask me, no matter how you justify it, the MPAA has officially stuck a knife deep in the back of the theater business.
Aside from alleviating a bit of the cost to consumers, the FCC/MPAA partnership is one of the more disturbing ideas the industry has come up with in some time. It makes 3D conversion (and the associated cost to consumers) look like a charitable cause.
Going to the movie theater is an experience. It is a cultural staple in our society, where months of promotion garner anticipation and excitement. Being a part of a full movie theater is a unique sensation - especially during a good movie. And while these latest proposed changes might not affect the midnight crowds, die-hards, and movie purists who believe in the theater experience, those individuals make up a small percentage of the total box office population.
Even Bob Pisano, head of the MPAA, even admits there is nothing like watching movies in the theater:
“The first, and best way to view movies will always be in movie theaters – and nothing can replace the pleasure this brings to millions and millions of people all across our country and the globe.”
The mutual laughter shared by strangers watching a comedy is one of the few remaining ways to connect with a group of people you'll never know - if only for a couple of hours. When you sit in a dark theater during a horror film, the fear can be overwhelming. The collective silence and nervous "eeks" from those surrounding you add to the tension of the film - a feeling that can't be replicated by simply cuddling with a loved one in the comfort of your own living room.
We all wish we could go to a movie theater without a baby crying, a cell phone ringing, a chronic texter lighting up the seats around you, or the annoying chair kicker. There are enough distractions and frustrations in a movie theater that, at times, it's a serious test of patience. If everybody just followed our movie etiquette rules everything would be fine. But not everyone does obey the etiquette, making the option to watch a film at home sometimes seems preferable. After all, at home there is nothing to worry about except the sound of your popcorn jumping in the microwave.
However, despite the convenience, movies are simply not made to be viewed on a television - especially not the first time. No director sits behind a monitor thinking, "This will look great on a 50" HDTV." The epic work put into films are meant for the epic presentation of a massive screen.
It goes without saying that Christopher Nolan isn't filming with an IMAX camera just so you can sit in your living room. Movies are becoming more immersive than ever. Given the evolution of 3D technology, your brand-new 3D television just won't give you what a 3D movie screen can - no matter what you want to believe.
There is no denying that the FCC/MPAA partnership will present terrific new ways to watch a movie - and to deny its cultural impact would be naive. In some ways home viewing was inevitable in a society in which the necessity for social interaction is decreasing on a daily basis (at the same rate as technology increases). The world has been searching for ways to make life faster and easier - this is certainly one way to accomplish that.
In my opinion, movie theaters are one of our last remaining "entertainment destinations" - outside of the sporting world, Vegas and theme parks. Soon enough, it'll be easy to forget that a world existed outside your living room, and we'll lose the wonder of the movie-going experience - the fun of sharing something completely new with a crowd of fellow entertainment lovers.
[EDITORS NOTE: But is there a silver lining? Would offering movies at home open new doors for those films which have been denied by the theater system? Would some of those cult-films and DVD classics (see: Office Space) maybe find an immediate audience? If people are more wiling to invest in their movie-watching (for cheaper cost, from the comfort of home), could the movie industry somehow stumble back onto the path of fertile creativity, instead of relying on established properties and franchise sequels to generate "guaranteed" profits?
What if the theater becomes the arena of film spectacle (3D blockbusters year-round) while home theater becomes the arena of unfettered film art - would that be so bad? All important questions to ask yourselves!]
What do you think? Would you continue to pay for the theater experience or be tempted into watching a movie in the comfort of your home?