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May 15, 2021

Could going to the movie theatre be a thing of the past?

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

When Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience was released near the start of the month, not many people paid attention.

Forget that the Traffic/Ocean’s Eleven director has been behind a handful of the best 30 movies this decade, his latest flick was of the indie variety which – with Star Trek looming around the corner – generally gets swept up by blockbuster fever.

Yet the dichotomy between Experience and the Star Trek  prequel highlights an interesting and little-reported tug-of-war within Hollywood right now.

Depending on who you believe, movie theatres are either the hottest spots going or relative ghost towns because of the recession. Chances are most consumers are in one of two camps: a) I can’t go to the movies because I’m broke or, b) Screw this, I don’t want to sit here and sulk about the economy, I’m going out!

Despite being about the only industry to actually garner that antiquated thing called “profit” these days, there’s sentiment rolling in that physically going out to see a movie could soon be a thing of the past. And Soderbergh, for all his vast theatrical gain, is behind the movement.

While it'll still hit theatres in a limited release, Experience debuted on Amazon as an on-demand download a full three weeks before it was set to reach the big screen.

It’s a novel thought, bringing a new movie from the red carpet to your living room carpet, but Soderbergh’s done this before.

Bubble, his 2006 pic, was broadcast on HDNet at the same time it was in theatres, with the DVD release coming only four days after its initial release.

Now, you’re sitting there saying, “Yeah, but who wants to see these lame movies when, like everyone else, I just want to see Spock or the latest blockbuster or comedy or whatever.” And you’re right. Indies like Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience, no matter how good, aren’t going to change anything with regard to how you see movies.

But consider how spooked studios are of piracy. Illegal downloads and DVD leaks are causing billions in lost revenue, and it’s gotten so bad that production houses in France lobbied the government so much that they just passed a bill that will actually let them shut off your Internet if you’re caught scamming a free video.

So, if you’re the movie studios, why not compound the problem? By charging $9.99 or whatever for each online download (or, more likely, an on-demand viewing through your cable or satellite provider), you can still earn a majority share of your box office revenue and, ideally, cut down on people ripping off your property.

Not only that, but now you’re tapping into the Homebody Crowd. People who don’t want to go to a packed theatre now have an avenue to check out the newest movies right from their couch. And that’s probably a bigger demographic than we presume.

As a moviegoer, too, you’d have to enjoy the prospect. How cool would this be? Imagine having the choice of staying in without missing a beat at the box office. Even if they charge more than a normal ticket – say, $17.99 per viewing or somewhere in that range – just invite over a friend and you’re saving money. Then consider you don’t have to pay for gas or concession food, and you’re a bonafide genius for watching at home.

The only tweak to this strategy I’d suggest is, unlike Bubble, studios shouldn’t release the DVD right away. Maintain the same time period before the movie’s release and when it’s out on disc and you’ve pretty much maintained every traditional facet of the modern movie experience – only with the added bonus that you’ve opened up a revolutionary way to tap into a new audience. And isn’t that the goal anyway, to get your product to as many people as possible?

Of course, this is just a modest proposal, and you won’t be seeing any major releases at home within the year or anything. But, doesn’t this sound like something that could work for everyone involved?



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...