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Is Instant Access Killing the Movie Theater Experience?

Written By Monica Savaglia

Posted June 29, 2016

Going to the movies was one of my favorite things to do when I was younger. It was exciting and different.

Sitting in a comfortable room and watching a movie on a huge screen with a giant bucket of popcorn in my lap, feeling like I was suddenly emerged into the movie — as if the characters on the screen were people that I knew.

That feeling of being emerged in a story is what people enjoy the most about going to the movies. The idea that you’re able to get away and go to a different place and time for an hour and half is freeing.

Subtle Changes, Higher Prices

The movie-going experience has somewhat changed since I was younger. Well, the prices of movie tickets have definitely changed.

The average price for a movie ticket has increased by 1.7% since 2015.

average movie ticket price chart

It’s going to be hard for theaters to continue to increase their ticket prices without justifying the costs. U.S. theaters like AMC Entertainment (NYSE: AMC), Cinemark Holdings (NYSE: CNK), and Regal Entertainment (NYSE: RGC) have been trying to get more people into theaters by trying to entice moviegoers with some upgrades.

They’ve upgraded their screen technology by giving consumers the option of seeing their film in either 3D or high-definition. Of course, seeing a film with these screen upgrades is at an added cost.

These theaters have also started to upgrade to reclining seats. The motive behind reclining seats is that if we feel more comfortable in theaters, we’ll want to come in and see a movie rather than watch a movie in the comfort of our own home.

Watching Movies from the Comfort of Your Own Home

For me, leaving my house is my biggest challenge when trying to decide if I want to go to the movies or not.

The way we watch movies and TV shows has changed drastically over the past few years thanks to streaming sites such as Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX).

It’s easier, cheaper, and a lot more comfortable to be at your own house and watch a movie. Why spend money on a movie ticket and overpriced food/beverages so you can sit in a room with a bunch of strangers?

This is why a company called Screening Room wants to give consumers access to movies that are currently “in theaters” by bringing them into the comfort of their homes.

Screening Room was founded by Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju. Parker is familiar with how to benefit the modern consumer’s lifestyle. He was the co-founder of Napster and the first president of Facebook.

Screening Room is pitching the idea to movie studios of a $50 rental fee for movies that are still in theaters and an initial charge of $150 for the set-top bin — a device needed to be able to watch the movies at your house.

Movie studios have been reluctant with Screening Room’s pitch because of their relationship with theater chains. Theaters will be upset by the lack of business coming into their theaters if consumers are allowed to rent “in-theater” movies.

Screening Room hopes to avoid this issue by proposing the idea of giving consumers two movie tickets to theaters with their $50 rental.

Right now, a $50 rental for a movie is a bit steep, but if you’re inviting a couple of friends over to watch a movie, then $50 is a lot cheaper than if you were to go out and see a movie together.

Movies Anytime, Anywhere

The demand for instant access to movies has also put a strain on when DVDs get released. It used to be that it took six months for a DVD to release after a movie was in theaters. Now it only takes three months for a DVD to come out after a theater release.

And even that cycle might be a thing of the past. The emergence of digital downloads is becoming more appealing than owning a DVD or Blu-ray.

Digital downloads allow access to movies anytime, anywhere, without taking up any extra space the way DVDs or Blu-rays do.

In 2012, movies were available for digital download nine months after their theater release. It now only takes three to four months. This cycle shortened in just four years, while it took 10 years for the DVD release cycle to be shortened.

It makes you wonder how much shorter the digital download cycle will become in the future, especially with the increasing demand for instant access to entertainment.

Bring Back the Experience

Movie theaters need to start making significant changes to how they entertain their audiences. They can’t rely on a huge screen and reclining chairs to be enough for consumers, because it’s not enough anymore.

Consumers need to experience the movies again.

Virtual-reality technology will bring the experience back into “going to the movies.”

In the next few years, you can expect to experience VR technology while at the movies. VR movies have already started showing up at film festivals such as Sundance and Tribeca Film Festival.

IMAX (NYSE: IMAX) wants to bring VR into movie theaters, shopping malls, and tourist spots across the United States. It plans on opening six VR hubs worldwide this year. The first one will be located in Los Angeles.

It will be working with Starbreeze, a Stockholm-based entertainment technology company, on this project. Starbreeze will provide its StarVR headsets, games, and movies.

Streaming sites have shifted our viewership — it’s now socially acceptable to not leave our houses because entertainment will be instantly coming to us. This type of viewership has become an expectation rather than a privilege. It’s also forcing change on how movie studios and theater chains operate.

With that being said, I don’t see movie theaters becoming a thing of the past just because we feel entitled to instant access to our entertainment.

People inherently have the desire to “go out,” and if movie theaters adapt and provide audiences with an experience again, that’s how they’ll be able to bring the crowds back in.