Movie Studios are desperate to recoup money from theater closings. Of course, being Hollywood, they do it in the worst way possible.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to shutter movie theaters, forcing studios to think outside the box. This could be the moment Hollywood finally embraces the looming truth of Video on Demand. The MoviePass bubble burst, and people have shown that, barring insane discounts or marquee events, most would rather Netflix and chill.
Just like the movie industry cut off its nose to spite its face over plans like MoviePass, we seem set to see distributors throttle the hell out of the Golden Goose of “home theatrical release” before it’s even popped out a single golden egg. Some things never change.
With everything shut down, movies caught in the limbo of “already released, but nowhere near profitable” need to find a venue. When the quarantine lifts, all of the film premiers that have been shelved are going to come pouring down the mountain like an avalanche of Disney branded merch. Nobody is going to want to give The Hunt the time of day when Mulan, Black Widow, and Wonder Woman 84 draw all of the attention. So you need to make your money now.
The Rental Freeze.
Under normal circumstances, theaters hold movies hostage, hoping FOMO gets you to pay ten bucks to see even marginal movies because they just won’t be out to rent any time soon. Back when VHS ruled the rental market, movies actually took a long time to transfer and manufacture, plus there wasn’t a ton of incentive to speed that up. Sure, studios charged rental shops ruinous rates to get rental copies, but once they pocketed that money they were out of the loop. One person or one hundred, they didn’t get any more gravy so no incentive to rush it out of theaters where they make a percent on each ticket.
Now movies are pretty much all digital, so there’s no “legitamate” impediment between release in theater or at home. Digital rental like VUDU, which works more like a movie ticket percentage-wise for studios, also incentivizes speedy release. Add in that most studios now have dedicated streaming services; dropping movies early can perhaps lure in subscribers.
Ultimately, though, Disney or WB don’t get all that much extra from platforms. Your ten bucks for Disney+ doesn’t suddenly become 20 because you watched Frozen 2: Early Release Boogaloo.
An equitable way to solve this would be to work out deals with distributors, studios, and theaters all in it together. Some indie filmmakers are indeed doing this. Phoenix, Oregon partnered with a dozen small theaters and offered virtual tickets: you pay a (really reasonable) ticket price and the studio splits it with the designated theater. Other small distributors and foreign films are going this way too. Generally, they cost the same as a comparable ticket and everyone gets a slice of the pie.
Yeah. Big studios aren’t having none of that shit.
What Hollywood is Doing Instead.
The big studios who aren’t already entrenched in their own streaming platform fiefdoms are taking the above model, and subtracting the idea of “equitable” from it. They’re not partnering with theaters, so that part of the supply chain is fucked. Secondly, they’re nickel and diming both streaming platforms and audiences. Most of the conversions are going straight to sale.
Did you want to rent Bloodshot? Kiss our butts, you can only buy it, filthy casual. That’ll be 20 bucks.
OK, OK. As a compromise, we’ll let you rent The Invisible Man instead. That’ll be 20 bucks.
WTF? A dud movie probably only good for a rental is “buy only” while a decent movie is “rental only” but costs the same, egregious amount? Go fuck yourself, Hollywood! You just turned two rentals into zero sales. Good goddamn job.
What a Decent and Honorable Industry Would Do.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Indie films show that you can try to lessen the pain all around. There’s no reason the big players can’t negotiate theatrical home rentals in partnership with AMC and Regal. Honestly, if you lock them out now, good luck making money in theaters later when both are bankrupt and out of business!
It’s kind of myopic that AMC and Regal don’t already have a digital alternative. They’ve kind of buried their head in the sand about streaming, choosing “big screen or bust!” Well, it’s looking like bust, suckers.
If they didn’t want to create new infrastructure, they could partner with a third party like Fandango. Fandango already works theater ticket sales and digital rentals, so they’re ideally suited. Work out a profit split, and offer your movie at something less than ruinous prices. Ideally, the price of a ticket at a real theater. Hell, even the price of a ticket in La La Land costs less than the bullshit 20 bucks you’re asking for now*.
*And don’t give me that lame crap about “lots of people could watch the rental together, making it actually cheaper than a ticket!” We’re all in quarantine, you ass-bandits! I’m certainly not risking my life to preserve the cost/benefit ratio by inviting a crowd over for fucking Bloodshot!*
Hollywood needs to wise up, and fast, to the new reality. Despite what the orange bag of wind in the Oval Office says, this storm is not going to blow over any time soon.
As much as I try to support the movie industry, I can tell you that average people are not going to get upset that billion dollar studios take a hit in the wallets. I’m certainly not going to jump on the grenade myself by over-paying for stinkers like The Hunt or Downhill. If you want people to help you out of the lurch, turn around and do the same for the others in your industry.