During his recent Tribeca Talk, legendary director of The Godfather trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola weighed in on the day-and-date movie concept by saying that “cinema and television have become the same thing.”
As reported on Flavorwire, Coppola continued: “Those wonderful long television shows – starting with [The] Sopranos, Breaking Bad – those are movies, so it’s all cinema. There is no more ‘television’ as such.
“The truth is that you’re going to be able to see it in the theatre or at home or wherever you want to because you are the boss of that, you are the patron. And the theatre owners can’t make those kinds of stipulations; it’s the audience. It’s wonderful to see a movie in the theatre, with the full big screen and it’s also wonderful nowadays with the extraordinary home screens that you can have – but it’s all cinema.”
Director Peter Jackson has since told Deadline: “It’s pretty frightening when you look at what the real health of the industry is. Do you think any one of us – from Steven Spielberg, to JJ Abrams or Martin Scorsese – wants the moviegoing experience to die? Of course we don’t. But it is dying, slowly. We want to inject health into it, to give the cinemas money they can use to improve the experience, and to give the studios money to get more films made. The only way you can do that is to somehow get those people who are stuck at home, who can’t actually see the movies but want to, and can pay 50 bucks, so that all that money can go to the exhibitors and the studios. I am a film guy, and if I didn’t believe in Screening Room’s positive impact on the exhibition industry and the studios, I would not have anything to do with it.
“When I first got introduced to the notion of this, and they gave me a presentation, I went dubious, thinking it sounded like a really dumb idea. I kicked the tires relentlessly, and stayed involved, and have constantly talked to their security guys about my issues, trying to help this be what I think it needs to be: a positive thing for the cinema industry, the exhibitors and the studios.
“Of all the cinema seats available on any day in the year in America, from the first to last screenings, 82% of those seats go unsold, and are empty. So the question becomes, how do we sell more cinema seats? From 2014 to 2015, the number of frequent moviegoers – those who see more than three films a year – dropped 10%. We get told about last year’s record box office grosses, but the wool is being pulled over people’s eyes. For the health of the cinemas, you have to concentrate not on the gross but on the admissions; the number of people who actually go to the cinema. In 2002, there were 1.57 billion people who went to the cinema. Jump to 2014 and it’s 1.27 billion. So 300 million fewer tickets were sold. They’re losing the audience and keeping the dollars up artificially by raising ticket prices.
“Screening Room will allow studios to make more films, and I do think the only way to get more people into cinemas really is to have more films, and a wider diversity of films. To do that, you’ve got to allow the studios to be able to make more films. They’re making as many as they can now and the industry is right on the knife edge. Back in 2002, 205 films were made and released by studios; in 2014, it was 136 films. There has to be a correlation between people not going to the cinema as much anymore, and that there is not enough diversity in films for people to want to go see.
“The cinema chains themselves are not in great financial health; they’re operating on the smell of an oily rag, as we say in New Zealand. Right now, I don’t think anybody can present a case to say that the exhibition industry is in a healthy stage. We want it to be; that’s the whole point. We want to make it better. Screening Room is designed to sell movie tickets to people that want to buy them but can’t. That is critical. Who are those people? The frequent moviegoers – the ones that go to three films or more and generate over 50% of box office – are only 11% of the moviegoing audience. So 89% of everyone that goes in the theatre only sees one or two films a year and those are the ones you need buying more tickets.
“Here’s the key to Screening Room; he offers. “In 2014, people aged up to 24 went to the cinema 15 million times. People 40 and over, 15 million. Then look at the key age group – 25-39 – there was only 6.7 million people. That’s because a lot of those people are bringing up young families, concentrating on their careers. Most of them were frequent moviegoers when they were younger, but not now, because they cannot get out. The people we don’t want to sell Screening Room to necessarily are the up to 24s and the over 40s. The 30 million. The people we want to try to sell this to, because it involves buying cinema tickets, is the age between 25 and 39. If you look at the high income officials in that group with young families they number approximately 35 million of 115 million households in North America. Every time someone watches a film for 50 bucks on Screening Room, they’re buying two theater tickets, plus like six bucks of concessions, and even if they don’t use the voucher, it’s bought and that money goes to exhibitors and studios. There’s also a separate direct payment to the studios.
“Screening Room did surveys, and the non-target audience was asked if they’d pay $50 to see a film at home. 83% of that non-target audience said no. That’s what we want, for those people to continue seeing movies in cinemas. We asked the same question to our target audience; the people stuck at home, the 25-39 year olds. And 70% said yes they would spend $50. This is what persuaded me. That means 24 tickets – probably more – and if we can get Screening Room into 20 million households, and they rent 12 movies a year, then the exhibitors and the studios will get over $8.5 billion dollars a year. You can’t tell me that all that extra money isn’t going to allow more films to get made each year. Studios suddenly won’t just be able to make 137 films a year, but they’ll be able to make 200 films, that will bring more people back into the theater again, generating more interest in this whole industry. I just don’t believe for a second this is going to kill interest in cinema; I think it’s going to invigorate it.”
How Will Screening Room Tackle Piracy?
Addressing this, the director continues: If someone tries filming a Screening Room transmission, you’ll get caught. Screening Room is only going to be sold as a membership from a Screening Room website, and there will be thorough security checks done where you’ll provide all your information, including social networks. Screening Room is being sold to an individual person, not to anonymous people who walk into Walmart and walk out with a box. We’re selling it to an individual whose name and details we know. If the address is a club or bar where they plan to show patrons, we’ll know; every address will be checked. We can remotely shut these boxes down, anytime we want. Every time you rent a movie for 48 hours and pay your $50, it’s going to be invisibly watermarked with your identity. Somebody points a camera at that screen and it goes online, we will know exactly what Screening Room member allowed that to occur. That will have legal repercussions – hopefully jail or fines – and we will report them to authorities, straight away.
“We’re not going to allow anyone but the member to confirm that rental. So if you happen to be out of the house and the babysitter or someone thinks they’re going to look at a movie and pirate it, you’ll say no, you are not home. There are other security measures I can’t discuss because they’re confidential, but a lot of thought has gone into this.
“Screening Room can only be done by a third party, because there are laws that prevent the studios and exhibitors from doing it,” Jackson says. “Can Regal and Fox talk about setting up their own screening room system and having Fox films streamed by Regal to people in their homes? Sure. But can Warner Bros. and Fox discuss it, or can the six studios and the five or six exhibition chains go off to a hotel somewhere for the weekend and figure out a version for themselves? They can’t, because it’s breaking the law. The whole thing of resentment of a third party coming in and injecting themselves into this? Well, whether it’s Screening Room or another one, it is going to have to be somebody from outside that performs this function because it cannot be done legally between the exhibitors and the studios, under current law.”
The quality of recent television shows (both in content and format) is indeed blurring the lines between the cinema and the ‘home theatre’ experience. As far as streaming services go, Netflix has already assumed the role of distributor for self created content for its own exclusive programmes House of Cards, Orange Is The New Black, Marco Polo and Better Call Saul – to name a few. So rather than just hosting other companies’ content after they have appeared on TV, Netflix has sidestepped a link in the production chain by producing its own, straight-to- streaming-service offerings.
In addition to providing an ever-growing number of 4K titles, Netflix also just announced its intention to provide 150 hours of HDR content this year, and presently streams Marco Polo in HDR:10 and Dolby Vision, with many other titles also receiving a HDR makeover in 2016.
Also announced this week was Sony and Sky’s pan-European deal that will see Sony Pictures films launch exclusively on Sky’s pay-TV service, meaning Sky will be the only one able to show them until the exclusivity runs out.
Not only will Sky have exclusive rights to the content, but as part of the deal Sony says that its films will be available for viewing just ‘a few months after they have been released in cinemas’.
Sky won’t only have exclusive rights to the films themselves, but it will also get ‘UHD productions’, meaning Sky Q users will get 4K content from Sony Pictures before anyone else.
Also recently debuting in the US was Sony Picture Studio’s new 4K Ultra HD movie streaming service called Ultra, available to for Sony 4K Ultra HD TVs with Android TV.
Another notable announcement signalling that the film distribution chain is changing came from Paramount last year, which saw it sign an agreement with AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc and Canada’s Cineplex Inc, dramatically shortening the time between cinema release dates and home releases.
New films will be available to watch at home on TVs and laptops using VOD/on-demand home services just two weeks after the theatre release date.
Then there is Prima Cinema (as enjoyed by Kim and Kanye West in their California home), which allows users to watch films opening in theatres on the same day, paying £324 per rental for a 24-hour period after the initial hardware cost of £23,000. After signing up to the service, users must purchase 10 films upfront, and if they re-watch a film they have purchased, they pay the £324 again.
The Wests aren’t the only celebrities investing in the technology, with Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneres also investing in Prima Cinema technology.
“Before Prima Cinema, only invited Hollywood insiders were able to view theatrically released films at home,” says Prima Cinema. “No longer. Prima Cinema is the first premium entertainment company that delivers Hollywood films directly to your private home theatre.”
Making much more noise recently due to the surprise backing of film directors Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard is Screening Room, the movie streaming service from Napster co-founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker and entertainment mogul Prem Akkaraju. Jeff Blake, the former vice chairman of Sony Pictures, is also a stakeholder.
Screening Room aims to offer movies on the same day of release in theatres at $50 (£35) per movie. It would also charge $150 (£110) for access to its anti-piracy equipped set-top box that will transmit the movies.
In an effort to get commercial cinemas on board, Screening Room is said to be cutting them in on the revenue, with $20 (£14) out of every $50 reportedly going to the cinema chain. Customers will also get two free cinema tickets to see the film at the cinema.
Coppola is currently working on a five-year project that he says is “one aspect of the future of cinema.” Named Distant Vision, the director describes it as “live cinema” – an experiment that will combine live performance and traditional filmmaking, which could either be viewed in a theatre or on a television.
Industry reaction to Screening Room:
J.J. Abrams: “We need to do everything we can in this age of piracy, digital technology and disruption to be thoughtful partners in the evolution of this medium… We have to adapt. It’s going to be required of all of us. We need to meet that challenge with excitement, and create solutions – not fear. As the world evolves, all of us are evolving with it. We have to adapt.”
James Cameron and Jon Landau: “Both Jim and I remain committed to the sanctity of the in-theatre experience. For us, from both a creative and financial standpoint, it is essential for movies to be offered exclusively in theatres for their initial release.
“We don’t understand why the industry would want to provide audiences an incentive to skip the best form to experience the art that we work so hard to create. To us, the in-theatre experience is the wellspring that drives our entire business, regardless of what other platforms we eventually play on and should eventually play on.
“No one is against playing in the home, but there is a sequencing of events that leads to it. The in-theatre communal experience is very special. Once something is available in the home, you open yourself up to a vulnerability of piracy and what we have learned is that people who watch pirated movies, do not care about the quality of what they watch.
“As an industry, we have a responsibility to support all the theatres not only the big chains in big cities, but all theatres — in small towns and the small chains, too. We do that by creating quality content and the theatre owners have a responsibility to continually upgrade their theatres to provide a state of the art presentations.
“I really view the distributors and theatre owners as partners in this industry and we need to work together to continue to create an in-theatre special experience for moviegoers around the world.”
Christopher Nolan: “It would be hard to express the great importance of exclusive theatrical presentation to our industry more compellingly than Jon Landau and James Cameron did.”
Odeon’s chief executive, Paul Donovan: “I don’t see this as something that has a great future. I’m a marketer by background and I always ask myself does a product meet a human need? I really question how many people really need to see a film the day it comes out and are willing to spend $200 to avoid going to the cinema.”