Daily Archives: July 29, 2011

Movie Theater vs. Home Theater (part 3)

To review: I’m talking about an article on ZDNet that tries to make the case for streaming first-run movies to a home theater. In the first part, I laid out the argument they made, and then took a look at the ‘why I hate theaters’ portion. In the second part, I moved on to their ‘why my home is awesome’ argument.

Now let’s take a look at what prices would be required and a few other hurdles to streaming first-run movies to your house.

 Technical hurdles

Well, you need the right hardware. Figure an HDTV, a good sound system, and a box with a subscription to a streaming service. Initial outlay has gotta be over $1400, but if you’re really considering this option you probably already have this stuff.

And of course you’ll need reliable broadband. It’s the “reliable” part of that that’s going to stump a lot of people. I’m sure you’ve all experienced broadband slowdowns at one point or another, due to system load, throttling, or whatever reason. That’s always a risk. But I’ll tell you what – if a bandwidth issue occurs while I’m streaming a movie I paid top-dollar to see in high-def, I’m gonna be way more peeved than if someone in a theater turns on his cell phone for 15 seconds. Costs at $2-$5 are one thing… prices at the levels we’ll be talking about below are a whole different animal.

Then you’ve got questions about DRM protections, licensing, etc. Basically, where do you draw the line between being able to watch the movie when you want it (which necessitates you having an accessible local copy of it), and the fact that once you are done watching it you aren’t allowed to still have that copy anymore to do with as you please?

The ZDNet article acknowledges that these problems exist, and I agree that for the most part there’s not really much you as the consumer can do about them – it’s up to the corporations and studios involved to figure those out (which of course means it’s not happening anytime soon, but for the sake of argument we’ll continue).


Studios are not going to let you pay the same at home as you would at the theater. $10 per movie isn’t going to cut it. How do they know you don’t have 10 people crammed into your living room, and they’re out $90? Where’s the balance point between what you’re willing to pay and where their risk is negligible?

Let’s start with what you’re willing to pay. As it is now, let’s say I spend $10 per ticket and (generously) $10 in gas to get through a movie at the theater. So if I’m out on a date, I’m spending $30. A family of 4 would be $50. (If I need babysitting suddenly I’m up to $100 without trying, but let’s keep this simple.)

So what am I willing to pay to watch a new movie in a vastly more convenient setting (ignoring the quality and other issues I’ve already discussed – but which in reality would weigh heavily on me)? Would I be willing to pay the same price if I’m the only one home vs whether my wife and/or kids are watching with me? The ZDNet article posits $30 per film. I have to agree – that’s about what I am willing to pay, but that’s also just about the upper limit, at least until my kids are older and can watch with me. Would a single person be willing to pay that much? They’d be paying a premium to see it at home, while those with 2 kids would be getting the same film at a steep discount. Doesn’t seem fair, but single people generally have more disposable income so maybe they wouldn’t mind.

So let’s go with $30. Just because.

Now let’s look at that $30 from the studio’s perspective. On the surface, they make out pretty well at that price. They don’t have to split that with the theater, for one. They would have to split it with the streaming service, though, and that would probably be a pretty similar arrangement, where they get a larger slice near the release date and a diminishing slice in increments after that. But still, if it’s a single person watching, they make out at about 3 times the rate of a theater ticket, and probably for a longer time. But that quickly diminishes the more people watch it together.

And what do they do about the people with large living rooms who invite 10 friends over? Heck, those people could actually charge admission at $3 a head and break even, while the studios have lost $70-ish in potential revenue. We’d have a new small-business sweeping the nation – and don’t pretend it wouldn’t happen, you know it would. I’d invite people over every chance I had! That’s easy money. (But wait… suddenly I’m an unlicensed movie theater owner.)

They need to raise the price to discourage that kind of behavior. What about $80 a film? That would discourage a few entrepreneurs – not all of them – but then any sane single person, or even a small family, would laugh at that price. You’ve just lost the base of your revenue.

Honestly, I don’t see this ever working out without some way to count and charge for individuals. Studios don’t assume that much risk if they don’t have to.


So let’s summarize:

  • Ticket prices are high, but aren’t really too far out of line from what they’ve been since the ’70s.
  • Rude people suck, and they’re a huge deal when they are there, but if I’m honest I really don’t run into them that often. Your mileage may vary.
  • The odds are you’ll be interrupted more at home – or you may be more likely to be the one doing the interruptions.
  • Snacks are cheaper at home (but a little more work).
  • I don’t care how good your home theater system is, it’s not gonna match a theater’s system.
  • Staying at home means missing out on the social/community/shared experience aspect of the theater. It also means less escape time away from “real life.”
  • There are lots of technical hurdles, not to mention legal ones.
  • None of the above matters, because there’s no reasonable price that satisfies the consumer and the business at this time, nor will there be until we can account for the number of people in front of the screen at home.

If we could just teach society to be civil and consider others, there wouldn’t be issues with rude people in the theater, and I think that would go a HUGE distance to removing the argument of the anti-theater crowd. But we live in an increasingly self-centered world of entitlement, so the odds aren’t good there.

All the same, I vastly prefer the theater experience to staying at home for those first-run movies that I really want to see. Barring the occasional rude people, it’s just more fun, not to mention a better experience technically (unless you’re going to a crappy theater, I suppose).

What do you think? What would you be willing to pay for first-run streaming to your home? Do you think it would really be a good experience from a technical perspective? I am really, truly, interested to know what you think. I know you have an opinion on this. Weigh in through the comments.