Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

Summary: Many millions of Americans would probably be willing to spend real money to watch first-run movies from the privacy of their own homes for the sheer convenience and being able to avoid the aggravation of the modern theatre experience.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Apple, Mobility
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Many millions of Americans would probably be willing to spend real money to watch first-run movies from the privacy of their own homes for the sheer convenience and being able to avoid the aggravation of the modern theatre experience.

Like millions of other Americans, my wife and I braved the brutal summer heat this weekend, left our air-conditioned home and sat down for two hours at our local movie theatre to watch Captain America: The First Avenger.

I liked the movie a lot. The movie experience itself? Not so much.

As a young child, I used to love going to the movies. It was a time before the Empire, before the giant media and theater conglomerates owned everything.

A long, long time ago, in an era that is now far, far away, movie theaters used to be fun, especially the old, plush movie palaces that served real on premises-popped popcorn with real butter and had good movie candy, not the pre-popped, shipped in giant plastic bags from a central location and corn-syrupy crap that they serve now.

It was a time when you could get the original Goldenberg's Peanut Chews (long before they purchased by Just Born and lost their identity) and old school Ice Cream Bon Bons, and nobody knew what hell "Movie Nachos" were. And we liked it that way.

I also remember when it didn't cost a king's ransom for mom and dad to take their kids out for a movie night.

Now as I get older, I dread the entire experience of going to the movies. Let me begin with my list of grievances.

First, is the entire thing of having to drive half across your 'friggin county in the blazing heat and traffic to get to a movie theater. Which sucks.

Since most independent and small-town local movie theaters have gone extinct thanks to Regal Entertainment Group, AMC, National Amusements and Cinemark you now have to go to a multiplex/megaplex, which are typically attached or near some sort of shopping complex, usually a mall.

So now you have to fight with everyone else and their brother in that mall complex for a parking space, whether it's prime movie-going hours or not. Lately, it seems like there's never a good time to go to the theater, especially during the hot summer months when movie-going is at its peak.

It doesn't matter if you go to an early matinee, late afternoon, early evening or the late evening showing, the entire parking-lot thing is enough to drive me completely out of my mind and abort mission. In fact I have aborted mission just on the state of the parking lot alone.

Once you've parked your car, which is now 1/4 mile away from the mall entrance after you've blown 20 minutes circling around and cursing at idiots who you've nearly gotten into an accident with, you schlepp yourself across the asphalt in the blazing heat.

After inhaling what your lungs interpret to be jet engine exhaust due to the dangerously diminished air quality, you now end up in the movie theater lobby.

This is where you find a box office that is almost always woefully understaffed and has only a few token automated movie ticket machines. To add insult to injury, if you want to buy tickets in advance on the Internet, these chains actually charge you a fee to save them labor and streamline their process. Un-freakin-believable, right?

Then there's the entire issue of getting a seat. You think you're getting there early enough, but these days unless you get there at least a half hour early during prime weekend movie-going hours, most of the good seats are taken.

And now that people are all personal-space conscious, they'll take up adjoining seats with their personal items such as pocketbooks and jackets and tell you that the seat is "saved", so the seating efficiency of most of these modern theaters are completely shot to hell. Never mind the fact that the seats at most of these places are extremely uncomfortable to begin with.

Then of course we have to add the actual behavior of many people that go to movies. The jackasses that turn on their LED-backlit smartphones and start texting/emailing/FaceBooking during the film. The parents who don't have the common sense not to bring young children to movies that aren't suitable for children, so now your experience is ruined by crying, screaming kids.

The idiots that can't shut the hell up. I could go on, and on, and on.

I'm not even going to get into the price/value of concessions compared to what they used to be. It amazes me that people are even willing to spend that kind of money on crap, but I flat-out refuse. Ok, I will get into it, but not right now.

And then pity the poor bastard who actually has to use a movie theater restroom to do... well anything before, during or after the film.

All of this is enough to make me not want to go to the movies anymore. This despite the fact that some movie chains, such as AMC, have tried to address these issues with more "high-end" experiences for the moviegoer, such as with the Dine-In concept that I wrote about in late 2010.

Also Read: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

In early July, AMC had to adjust their business model for Dine-In, at least at the Essex Green location in New Jersey where I previewed the service. Instead of their food/drink "voucher" included with tickets prices for the special Fork & Screen and Cinemasuites, they are now only adding a surcharge to watch the film, with food and drinks being extra.

But the bottom line is that this kind of "if you want the experience at the theater to be better, we're just going to charge you more and more money" isn't going to resonate with people, especially myself, as prices are going through the roof and nothing is really improving.

[Next: The home as first-run movie theater]»

Frankly, I already have an ideal place for a moviegoing experience. My home. Where I have air-conditioning, clean bathrooms, and a HDTV in my comfy living room and bedroom. Where I can prepare any kind of meals that I want at any budget that I like, buy whatever snacks I want that don't cost an arm and a leg, and pause the film when I want to take a nature break, without any rude people to ruin my movie.

The only downside to this is I'm limited to what I can see on DirecTV On-Demand, Netflix, Amazon Video or iTunes. If it's Pay Per-View, the release window is something on the order of six months or so. On Netflix or Amazon Prime video, a year or more, depending on the title.

Prices on my Apple TV and on my Roku for premium rentals average out at around $5 per title. DirecTV is about the same.

I'm pretty sure there are millions and millions of families, so that they could avoid all of the hassles of going out to the movies would be willing to pay premium prices in order to view first-run films from the safety and comfort of their own homes.

But what exactly is the magic number?

Well I think that depends on how large a family you have, and how you factor in the costs of a night at the movies. There's the time and aggravation, there's the fuel costs, there's the cost of pre or post-movie meals, and then there's the concession stuff, which is ludicrously expensive compared to what you can buy at the supermarket.

I mean, a decent air popper costs $25 and popcorn itself is like $5 for two 46 ounce jars at Walgreens which makes a massive amount of popcorn. And what does butter and a case of Coke cost at the supermarket or Wal-Mart compared to the theater? After the first movie night for a family of four you've pretty much paid back your investment.

With that taken into account, I think a family of two, such as my wife and I or even a single person would probably justify a first-run at $20 per view. My Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan and I were discussing it this evening and he said that he could easily do it with his wife and two kids at $30 per view.

If you consider that I saw two grandparents with three grandkids plonk down $47 at the AMC's automated ticket machine this evening before buying any concession stuff at all, $30 doesn't sound too bad all.

Now, I realize there are a number of issues that need to be overcome here. Not everyone has broadband nor can they necessarily guarantee a good stream even if they have some type of high-speed Internet due to varying quality of service issues, so these films would probably have to be downloaded to a local cache such as on a big flash drive on the player device.

I envision a seven day from initial download and 24-hour window for viewing the film once you start to play it.

You'd order your HD first-run movie for the evening, and then it would be downloaded/cached, give or take an hour's notice. CDNs such as Akamai and Limelight could handle the load when films are released on Friday nights.

I'd expect that if everyone wanted Friday night to be movie night at home, these downloads could be pre-ordered a few days before, and the device would download during a scheduled "slot" of time using a distributed queuing algorithm at the back-end so the network wouldn't get saturated.

There's also the DRM problem that needs to be solved, and anyone who is really determined to defeat HDMI's HDCP easily can, although the practicality of re-mastering this stuff into Blu-Ray, doing the transcode work and distributing massive MPEG4 files on Bittorrent is of questionable benefit and has become increasingly risky.

I'm not going to deny there are some technical issues not to mention any number of licensing and legal issues that would need to be overcome. But Hollywood, the studios and the content owners simply need to have the will to get this done.

Would you be willing to pay a premium to watch first-run movies in the privacy of your own home? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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95 comments
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  • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

    I agree. Millions of Canadians would, too.
    IAmMarty
    • Message has been deleted.

      nomorebs
      • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

        original post deleted
        jperlow
      • <a href="http://www.watchfreemoviesonline.ws">Watch Free Movies Online</a>

        @nomorebs ??<br><br>Anyway I do see the point of the movie house getting a little expensive nowadays, but when we go at the weekend on a sunday it's really quiet. TBH I prefer to watch free movies online however, a trip to the movie house is always nice once in a while but you can't beat the low rates the providers of streaming online movies are giving their customers, Netflix for example less than $20 a month and you get access to unlimited movies. It looks as though the cinemas are going to struggle with this competition.
        dmtaylor247
    • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

      @IAmMarty
      Since Hollywood (film companies) own major interests in the major theater chains, it is to their advantage to NOT make first run films available.

      I don't think that you will see first run movies over the net for a long, long time, if ever.
      linux for me
      • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

        @linux for me This is the truth. As much as people would want it, I doubt it will ever happen.
        Jimster480
  • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

    Or, ignore the current trend the internet has driven into you of immediate satisfaction and just BE PATIENT and wait for the movie you want to watch comes to your home via any of the options you mentioned (or the dozens you didn't).
    pdaguy
    • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

      @pdaguy

      dozens ???
      Daniel Levine
    • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

      @pdaguy What dozens that weren't mentioned? And what does internet satisfaction have to do with movies coming out in the movie theater?
      Jimster480
  • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

    When I was young in the 50s & 60s, it was common for parents to drop off whole loads of kids at the Orange (Calif.) theater for Saturday matinees. $0.25 admission. The rest of the dollar our parents gave us went for popcorn and drinks.<br><br>Then there were the weekends and summer weeks with my movie-addict grandmother, Annie, who took me to lots of "red carpet" movie premieres up on Hollywood and Sunset Blvd. & 2nd-run double features at the old Westlake Theater. And the Newsreel theater -- obsolete by 1960 what with TV news, but a great place you could slide into for an hour and see short movies of events all over the world. <br><br>The Cinerama dome... How the West Was Won, Lawrence of Arabia and other widescreen epics opened there. <br><br>Later in life I sat in Grauman's in the middle of a crowd of locals and had the marvelous experience of cheering and yelling "Hey, there goes MY house!" along with everyone else, and applauding like crazy when the theater we were in got destroyed on-screen, complete with subsonic shake-the-theater effects.<br><br>Nowadays I have a Vizio 42" LCD TV and a sound bar to go with it. I wait for the movies I want to see to come to Netflix -- or now, since Netflix has gotten out of the DVD business, Redbox -- or a friend to make a copied DVD, not that I know anyone who does that sort of thing, no no no. <br><br>Movie theaters are too expensive and, at least around Bradenton, Florida, where I live now, full of people obnoxious enough that I don't want to go near them unarmed. So home it is...
    robin@...
    • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

      @robin@... did you not hear of inflation - in the UK there are cinemas offering saturday morning cinema for ?1 still and also a "teen screen" for 13-19 year olds for ?2
      cymru999
      • Just out of curiosity...

        @cymru999 I decided to see what the impact of inflation has been. Where I live, we were just complaining over the weekend about how tickets are up to $8.50 each. Now I know its a lot more in other places, but where I live its $8.50. So I plugged $8.50 into an inflation calculator to see how much that equates to in 1971 dollars. I chose 1971 because I was 10 years old at that time. $8.50 in 2011 $$ comes out to $1.65 in 1971 $$. My memory isn't that great, but I think that comes out just about right - in other words, the ticket price has about kept up with inflation. And you don't have to buy popcorn when you get there - it's your choice.<br><br>The other thing to consider is that in 1971 there were few other options. Either you saw it in the theater or waited for years for it to be on regular TV - with commercials. Also, in 1971, my family did not have air conditioning. Only the "rich" people had that. But the theater's were air conditioned so even a crappy movie was an OK way to spend a Saturday afternoon.<br><br>While I'm rambling on, anyone remember drive in's?

        Anyway, I think that in reality the theater experience has not changed all that much. What has changed is that there are now competing options for watching a movie. All of that said, if Netflix were to give me a pay per view option for current run movies that was price competitive with going to the theater I would probably do it...occasionally.
        cornpie
      • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

        @cornpie There are still some drive-ins left and they are still a good deal. I took my wife and kids to see Cars 2 and Green Lantern a few weeks ago and the cost to see both movies was $8 per adult and $4 per kid. The best part is that you can bring your own food. If there were a drive-in near where we live, I would go often. The experience is so much better. You don't have to deal with other people's kids or noise or texting.

        I agree with the writer for the most part but I don't think we will see at home first run movies for a long time because of DRM paranoia which is ridiculous because even though I would NEVER (angel halo) download a movie illegally, it is worth $5 to stream a movie from Amazon instead of transferring huge HD data files around and dealing with formats etc.

        I don't care that much about first run movies. I would rather see a subscription based service like Netflix that has better movies at a higher price. My kids find tons of stuff to watch on Netflix (it was mutiny at my house last week when Netflix was on hold because my card expired) but the pickings are usually pretty slim for adults.
        redhaven
  • times change

    I also remember drafty smelly old cinema's with ripped seats whereas many of today's multiplexes are comfortable and air conditioned. I still don't think that a 42" home screen cuts it against a full size (maybe 3D) screen and HP2 on the Imax in 3D was amazing. Yes I too can remember going out with just 10/- (thats 50p to most british people now!) but the value of money has changed. There is also the atmosphere of being with other people - or do our US cousins prefer to stay indoors and never have to meet the great public!
    I say long live cinemas - especially 2 for 1 tickets every wednesday from Orange phones and you know if you want to be insular then you can just wait for the DVD because i dont want cinema's to die off as they nearly did before the multiplex!
    cymru999
  • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

    Since we're lucky enough in Australia to have small theatre chains as well as multiplexes, you can still get that experience you seem to crave.

    However, besides the theatre ambiance and avoiding people who think they are in their own loungeroom, the real problem is viewing the movie.

    Do I really want to watch a large grainy screen with the current 3D fad dimming all the colours, where my eyes must go back and forth to even take in the action. Fight scenes and action are almost incomprehensible. Contrast this with watching the same movie in HD on a 52" display in your own loungeroom, where the colours are crisp and bright and you can see the whole picture.

    My advice is to wait until the DVD or your cable provider or internet movie provider lets you see the movie properly ;-)
    tonymcs@...
  • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

    While I agree that the cost is too high, we as a nation are becoming much to dependent on the internet to give us what we want when we want it that it's hurting all of us, and our economy. I bet that if people would go to a store instead of Amazon-ing everything we could create a few more jobs. If for no other reason then to get out as a family and actually talk instead of only via text, e-mail or twitter it seems worth it to me. When we can can wake up, go find a chair and order a movie, food and anything else we want with the click of a mouse and never having to move is making us the fat and lazy people that the world talks about. I'm not anti-internet, I'm just saying that complaining about not getting a new movie on netflix sounds a lot like whining. What people have to realize is that because the pirating that the internet has produced is the reason for the price increase on movies and music. If you don't want to pay so much then stop stealing and mabye people will listen. I have no tolerance for lazy people, which is what sounds like you are. It's a two hour movie, and I'm sure people think that same thing about you that you think about them while you are suffering through an enjoyable experience. I go once a week and have a great time everytime, crying kids and talking people or not, at least I am out of the house. Mabye if you shut off your computer you'd feel the same way!
    tonyheck
    • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

      @tonyheck

      Going to the store is not a viable option anymore for certain categories of goods. Books are a prime example, for which you are bashing Amazon. I don't know how many times I've gone to my local Books-a-Million to look for a title, only for it not to be in stock. Then I head home and order on-line & have shipped to my door.
      mjollnir
  • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

    Here in NH it's not quite as bad.

    AMC's dine-in movies? We've had "Chunky's Cinema Pub" here for over 10 years. The newest one (a couple of years old) took over an old Montgomery Ward's store and instantly became the largest restaurant in New Hampshire.

    We have chain theaters but we also have small chains. The best of which is a few miles away and is in a dedicated building with a large parking lot just for them.

    It was sometime around the turn of the century when I was in a theater that did NOT have stadium seating.

    That being said, when we go out, we almost always avoid 3D - very few cases where we want to spend the extra money.

    The other points are accurate - inconsiderate people, incompetent employees (about a 50/50 shot there), kids who don't know the difference between a theater and their living room... Oh - and all the commercials that come on before the previews (which are, themselves, commercials) that you're basically PAYING to see.
    djlong
  • The best movies are made to be seen on the big screen

    While TV's and computer screens have certainly gotten a lot better, imagine seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars only at home, and not in the theater. That's not right.

    If a movie is really great, you'll wind up seeing it many more times at home anyway, but first run belongs to the theater.
    HollywoodDog
    • RE: Dear Hollywood: Give us first-run movies on Netflix and iTunes

      @HollywoodDog I'm not a movie buff....I can't recall the last movie I actually paid to see in theaters. Maybe Pirates of the Carribean 1? But I thought something along the same lines - if what the author proposes does occur movie productions will suffer. Without the big dollars from the box office, there won't be as much justification to spend oodles of money on special effects, actors, locations, etc.

      I'm not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing...Just an observation.

      I did see someone working to get their movie budget through kickstarter - a $20 investment now would get you a copy of the film when it was done. Seemed like an interesting plan....
      kymac