The Theatrical Window Shrinking?

The LA Times has an interesting article on the jockeying for position between theater chains and video on-demand providers.  My initial thought was, “who’s going to pay $30 – $60 dollars for a movie in their home?”  Then I realized that for a family of four or more, that could could be very appealing.  Granted, it’s not the same experience as the big screen, but you can pause the film, eat and drink what you like, and not deal with all of the other distractions that can crop up in a public setting.

Now I’m very much on the side of the theater managers since I prefer to watch films in the theater (and much prefer that it be, you know, actual film).  But many people aren’t like me and I get the appeal.  In my mind, though, theaters should be doing more to make the experience more appealing.  The biggest wild card when going to the movies is if you’re going to have a talker or a texter or any other possible annoyance in attendance.  Theaters need to come down harder on people that do that.  Install signal blockers to prevent people from using their phone to communicate (I don’t know if you can stop games from being played).

I understand why the concession prices are so high, but the studios really have theater managers between a rock and a hard place, so I don’t know if there’s an easy remedy to that.  But if theaters are really interested in bringing customers back, they need to figure out a way to make the theater a place where people want to be (and 3-D is not the answer, as evidenced by Avatar being the most illegally downloaded film of the year).

And it must be serendipity that this article on how to bring people back to the theaters should appear on my radar the same day as the LA Times article.  Indie producer Cottie Chubb believes that theater-going experience can be saved by a deal between smaller studios and major theatrical chains in which the studio gets a small return on the theatrical release (which allows the chains to lower prices of both tickets and concessions) in return for being able to distribute the film in all possible markets simultaneously.  Essentially, the theatrical window would be eliminated (which is what the studios are fighting).

It sounds like a rough proposition and, I must admit, I have serious doubts as to whether it would work.  Unless it is a big spectacle movie (like Avatar), I’m certain most people are content to watch a film with a small group of friends at home.  If they don’t even have to leave the house (like with VOD or Netflix), why bother?

It’s obvious that things are changing and the thought of theatrical screenings becoming a thing of the past is scary (the young adult statistic is alarming).  You’d be hard-pressed to find a director who didn’t want his or her films to be shown on a big screen to a large crowd.  There’s no easy solution.  What do you think?  Good idea?  Worries about nothing?



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