Apple in discussion with studios over early access to movies

As online streaming continues to grow as a prime mode of content distribution for music and movies, consumers have been dreaming of the day when they can start streaming movies like THE FORCE AWAKENS, ROGUE ONE, CAPTAIN AMERICA and more as soon as they hit theaters. There are some who scoff at the idea, saying that movies being the business they are the model won’t change any time soon, if at all. However, those folks may be eating those words in the near future, and with a generous layer of butter on top.

According to a Bloomberg report, studios such as 21st Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. have all confirmed they are actively looking for advantageous ways to distribute their movies to the public via at-home streaming, some as early as two weeks after their initial release. Though there are companies that would kill to get exclusive rights for such streaming, like Amazon and Vudu, there’s one that wants to get in on the action in a big way, and has the resources to do it: Apple.

Sources say that the aforementioned studios have been talking with the mega-company about offering streaming rights to their movies, which will help iTunes establish itself in the movie-streaming business as much as it has in the music business. But though iTunes has the clout and notoriety to make this proposal worth the studios’ while, the report mentions that studios going to other services (like the ones mentioned above) is not out of the question.

This all comes on the heels of theater chains like AMC and Regal reporting drops in shares between 2-3 percent, and as audiences flee from over-priced goodies and 3D surcharges. As well, there's Napster founder Sean Parker’s proposed plan to create a service called Screening Room, which promises to deliver movies into the home the same day as they’re released in theaters. Theater chains balked at the idea, but some Hollywood big-wigs like Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese have supported the service.

Of course there are other obstacles in the way of making streaming a reality outside of who gets rights, with money and piracy being the chiefs. No doubt it would be difficult to digitally hack Apple in order to distribute copies of the movie there’s nothing standing in the way of someone streaming a movie at home, filming it with a video camera, and then distributing it online.  One proposed method of determent comes from Parker in which a unique watermark on the movie would make it easy to track anyone illegally uploading them.

As for money, though audiences hope this means huge movies would just go onto Netflix the day of their release at no extra charge to them outside of their monthly fee, chances are renting these movies would cost a pretty penny. Estimates put the rental at any of these movies between $25 and $50 (depending on which movie, no doubt), with studios getting big chunks of that cash, much like they do from ticket sales.

Granted this may sound like a good idea for those who can’t afford going to the movies as often as they want, but the implementation of services like this are far off given the kinks that must be worked out. Plus, the idea of seeing these movies available for at-home viewing after as little as two weeks has proven succesful when attempted in the past. Something similar was done last year for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION and SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, wherein the studio decided to release the movies digitally 17 days after they dropped below 300 theaters. Some chains like AMC agreed, but many like Regal and Cinemark all-out refused to show the movies, cutting their distributions in half.

What could stand as a more reasonable agreement is to make movies available after 30 days in theaters. Theaters right now have a 90 exclusive on most movies, but films tend to make almost all of their money (and therefore chains see most of their attendance for the movie) after the first month. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR for instance made $390 million of its $408 million domestic take after one month, whereas THE FORCE AWAKENS made $858 million of its $936 million.

Audiences want to save money while the business needs to make money. This is the ultimate conundrum, but studios and streaming services like Apple do appear to want to bridge that gap so everyone wins. Nothing in the world beats the experience of watching the movie on a massive screen with amazing sound, and the theater-going experience provides other benefits that can’t be overlooked (the biggest being getting out of your [email protected] house). The immediate streaming model works for smaller films (two I saw this year, IMPERIUM with Daniel Radcliffe and GOAT with Nick Jonas, were through same-day streaming on Vudu), but big movies could lose massive profits by being streamed at home too soon after release. There’s a lot more to this discussion that no one has time to write out, but the big thing for audiences will always be saving money, and having worked at theaters for some time I have one piece of advice: When you’re alone at the cinema, and you're buying enough junk food to fill several buckets, stop yourself, and ask if it’s worth not having electricity. The answer may shock you.

Check out the beginning of this excellent director roundtable from 2016 where Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott and more talk about the state of movies and at-home viewing.

Source: Bloomberg



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