Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Day and Date: How Much for Video’s Holy Grail?

Watching first-run, Hollywood movies in your home the day they come out is pretty much the dream of true home theater ownership. But, if you’re a law-abiding citizen, and care anything about quality, then this has remained a dream for most.

Watching first-run, Hollywood movies in your home the day they come out is pretty much the dream of true home theater ownership. But, if you’re a law-abiding citizen, and care anything about quality, then this has remained a dream for most.

Sure, if you’re in the Bel Air Circuit, you can hire a studio courier to bring the hard drives over with the digital files to play on your D-Cinema certified system, have them hang around until the movie is over, and then send them on their way. (I’m sure some form of generous gratuity is expected.)

Image: Thinkstock

If you’re merely super rich, but not connected enough to work your way into the BAC, then you could buy a PRIMA Cinema (my review here). Of course, this comes with limited studio agreements meaning you can’t watch every film, carries outrageously expensive hardware costs, and incurs a steep $500 per-viewing charge. But, you’re super rich, so that’s OK.

Most recently, Sean Parker teased it with Screening Room (my blog, “Screening Room First-Run Movie Service: Fact, Fantasy, or Fluff”) setting off a firestorm in the industry by saying he planned to get the hardware and movie costs down to a mere fraction of PRIMA’s price. There was a ton of news on that for a couple of weeks, then the whole thing vanished like Keyser Soze.

The fact remains that being able to watch the new Jack Reacher or Star Trek movie the same day it comes out in theaters is pretty much the ultimate in luxury home video. And with any luxury item, you would expect there to be some kind of a price premium.

So, let’s talk hypotheticals here…

First, doing this would probably require some kind of hardware to make it work. Eventually we’ll probably get to some kind of “Movie Now!” app where you’ll just stream it through a smart TV or Blu-ray player or whatever, but for now, let’s talk about some new piece of specialized hardware that would be required to handle the encryption needed to satiate Hollywood.

How much do you think you could sell a component that would allow people to view movies in the highest quality that their systems could support—4K with HDR and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X if the system could support it, 1080p or less if not? With just this hardware, how much could you realistically expect to be able to charge for such a component that you think you could spec and install into most of your jobs? What if that component could do other things?

What if, besides just letting you watch new-release movies, you could also download and view a library of catalog films, again in any quality that the system could support? Letting users create and store a library of movies they could view in pristine quality on-demand at any time—would that make the hardware more sellable? And if so, how much more?

Now, let’s talk about the movie itself. How much do you think the typical home theater owner who would invest in such a component be willing to spend to watch a first-run movie on their schedule and in the comfort of their own home? How much would you be willing to spend out of your own wallet for such a movie?

I lived with PRIMA for a couple of weeks, and I’ll freely admit that there is something giddily awesome about sitting on your couch and firing up a movie, knowing that you’re doing something the rest of the world has to crawl out of their homes to do. I’ll also admit that $500 per viewing is an insanely high price that will never see major traction. But when you factor in the convenience of not having to leave your home, not having to get a babysitter, not having to buy snacks or drinks, being able to start—and pause— the movie on demand at your convenience, enjoying it in your own theater with whomever you want to invite, and also factoring in the rising admission costs, a “high price” suddenly doesn’t’ seem so high.

So, what is a “fair” price for this privilege? Is $100 too much? Or $50?

What if your payment to view the movie also simultaneously purchased the digital rights to own the film once it was released to the home market? How much would you pay?

Now, we all know that most major blockbuster films make their money on opening weekend, maybe stretching into the second week. What if you couldn’t see the movie till a week after its release? Would that be a deal killer? Or what if some films—say Star Wars Episode VIII— carried a premium price for the first week or two? Would that change anything?

Answer me this in the comments section: What is the right price for the hardware that could do this? And what is the right price for each viewing? You know, hypothetically…