Some friday night in the not so distant future, Netflix will collaborate with the Weinstein Bros to premiere a studio film online only. Everyone who wants to see the movie will be able to buy a ticket in the form of a unique log-in/password or captcha and see the film from their living rooms. The showing will be at a pre-determined time and will not stream until a certain threshold of individual viewers has logged into the page. There will still be pageantry and aplomb with special messages from the directors and actors and future discount on e-tickets for that first audience.
Why will this happen? Because this way more people can afford to see a movie, more people will have the time to ‘take’ their whole family to a movie, and the studios stand to make more opening weekend and lifetime gross on movies then in the previous studio-to-theater distribution model.
Today, going to a movie is an emotional, psychological, financial, and scheduling commitment. You must decide to go, find a theater that’s showing what you want to see and hope its not sold out, potentially find someone(s) to go with you, and pay crazy prices for entrance and snacks. I’m an overwhelming movie-goer and aficionado but this process is a hassle. Unless the theater is a special experience like The Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, it may be hard to justify the expense for many.
The economics are staggering when you consider the $10.8 billion 2012 total box office in the US and Canada and then multiple the potential audience by at least 3-5X, if not a much higher coefficient. The price per ticket drops in parallel with much lower distribution costs but the volume of purchasers is unlimited (depending on the nature of the premiere). If the movie industry obsesses over opening weekend numbers as a core KPI, the easiest way to insure that number is a good one is to eliminate the barriers for as many eyes as possible seeing their film at the same time. Right now those are the logistics and price concerns discussed above as well as the capacity of physical theaters. The internet solves for each. The word of mouth marketing effect is then amplified and more tickets are sold in the coming weeks.
I don’t know whether an established channel like netflix or an independent streaming ‘theater’ set up by studios or independent shops is the best medium for online premieres, but at least some in the industry are putting their toes in the water, notably HBO and the Toronto Film Festival. Other startups like VHX are already working on the democratization of distribution and premiere for artists directly, outside of corporate structure. Hopefully, an indie breakout that premieres through VHX or a forward-thinking studio that premieres a major picture online further pushes this dynamic in a more inclusive and profitable direction.