The Argument for Day and Date Digital

I love the theater; I worked at one for 6 years. There's something magical to seeing a movie opening night on the "Big Screen"; the joy and excitement, the hype you've built up over several months (sometimes years), palpable energy in the room. It is a special feeling that not many other mediums can replicate.

But it needs to stop.

I'm by no means saying theaters just permanently shut their doors, but that every film should be released digitally on the same day as they are in the theater. To this day, it's the only entertainment property that hasn't made that switch. Music has been doing it for years. Books have been doing it for years. Video games have been doing it for years. TV has been doing it for years. So why do movies have this monopoly on that market?

It's never been more convenient to see a movie in the theater. If I want to see a movie tonight, I could just open an app on my phone, pick where I want to sit, and buy the tickets. I don't have to wait in obscenely long lines anymore, the seats are big cushioned recliners, and it's convenient and comfortable. That's not the issue. Nor is price the issue. Even though ticket sales are steadily rising, it's still not absurdly expensive to see a movie. The problem is the people.

Unless you're incredibly lucky, the chances are you'll be seeing a movie with a few hundred strangers who seemingly forget how to respectively act in a public setting where being quiet should be a priority. Whether it is the constant coughing, the rustling of candy wrappers and popcorn tubs, a straw squeaking up and down the lid as the owner decides now is the best time to practice his musical skills, laughing at the weirdest times, babies crying, or kids running up and down the stairs, seeing a movie in theaters anywhere close to opening night is an annoyance that could, and should, be avoided.

Star Wars is a magical property. Seeing the newest iteration in theaters was some of the most fun I've had in a theater. But, that's an anomaly, The Witch on the other hand was an incredible movie.  It was ruined for me by the audience. Blame it on marketing or expectations, but The Witch wasn't a movie everyone should've seen. It's for a specific type of audience. So sitting in the theater, hearing people talk as loud as they please, get up and down, and adjust the seats, took away from the experience.

If films were available digitally on the same day as they release in theaters at the same price, maybe even at a slightly higher rate, I'd see more films. And I know I'm not alone in that ideology. The Witch would've been fantastic in the comfort of my own home. Services like Amazon and VUDU allow you to digitally rent films that are out to rent or own on DVD and Bluray. So why aren't films that are out in theaters offered that same service?

There is a logical way to do this, and this isn't it. Requiring yet another "set-top box" at $150 USD doesn't make sense. We already have too many. Adding another box with the only use being to watch movies is illogical. $50 per movie rental is great for a group of people who all chip in, but that's not fixing the problem either. If my wife and I want to watch a movie, paying $50 for the movie on the $150 set top box is not the direction I want to go. Especially since my Playstation 4 is already sitting there with all of the same capabilities as this box would have.

The right way to go about this would be what Sony did with The Interview (albeit, what they did seems like more of a somewhat brilliant marketing move). Releasing The Interview digitally for rent and to purchase the day it was (supposed to) come out in theaters was a game changer. It proved that films could work in this market. Renting The Interview for $5.99 on services like Google Play, YouTube, and VUDU was smart.  However at a price tag of $5.99 it would be difficult to make that money back. It was a fantastic experiment, but the price should be higher. When The Interview was released not many people gave it a shot to be successful, but in 4 days it made a little over $15 Million. While that number in no way comes close to making back the $44 Million budget, not including marketing the film had, the $5.99 rental price point didn't help it's cause. It was downloaded over 2 million times in that span. If the price point was a little closer to the national average ticket price of $8.61, that total would have been closer to $20 Million. Most of us pay closer to $12 per ticket, which would bring that total to $24 Million. At a higher price, The Interview wouldn't be viewed as a failed experiment, but possibly as the new standard. 

Video Games have been doing it for years now. A recent study by the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) showed 52% of all games released were purchased digitally opposed to 48% being physical sales. These numbers do reflect mobile games as well as console and PC sales, but they're still something to be reckoned with. In 2015, digital sales in gaming hit a record high, generating $61 Billion. That's a substantial number as more and more people continue to switch from the brick-and-mortar stores, viewing the digital stores more appealing. And while there are games available only as downloadable titles (typically developed by Independent developers), the draw of less clutter on shelves and the convenience of having all of your games in one place is becoming more evident. Gaming, more so than any other medium, is fully embracing digital. So much so that retail shops are doing everything they can to combat the rise in digital sales. Amazon offers a deal for Prime members for 20% off any new game, whether that be a pre-order for an upcoming title or a new release. Best Buy has a similar deal, their "Gamers Club" also offers 20% off any new game. These are good incentives to utilize, around $12 off any new game you buy. In spite of this, people are still opting to buy their games digitally. It's sending a strong statement to retail establishments.

Books have been making a push towards digital for years despite the publishers best efforts. With print, it's a bit of a different argument as the distribution of books directly effects the environment. Newspapers and Magazines have made the jump to digital, realizing it was cheaper to publish and better for the consumer. When was the last time anyone actually read a Newspaper? We all have such powerful tools at our fingertips. It no longer makes sense to print hard copies of Newspapers or magazines.

With the right market and circumstances, day and date digital movie releases could thrive. There are still films that are best viewed in the theater, like Star Wars or any of the big summer blockbusters, but a vast majority of films I don't want to see in a room filled with savages who have no regard for the rest of the people in the theater.