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Would People Pay $100 For A First Run Movie On An HD Disc? Print E-mail
Thursday, 31 August 2006
Without question, the early success of HD DVD and or Blu-ray hinges on the enthusiasm and support of the early adopter audience. This special group of one to two percent of the AV consumer base is willing to spend big to get in on something great at a time that insures they are first on their block. This group is who both parties in the HD disc format war are fighting over first, and when they get traction with the early adopters, they will move toward the mainstream. Right now, some are signing on. Others are scared to make a move, which is not good news for the parties involved in this format war. In looking at mainstream consumers, you can dissect the experience and, more importantly, the cost of going to the movies in a theater. In a big city, the cost for a family of four to go out to the movies can easily be $100. Tickets are $10 each, popcorn is greasy and expensive. The price of one small soda could buy you four gallons of the same drink at the supermarket. So that begs the question: what if the studios released a limited number of their best films on an HD disc (Blu-ray or HD DVD or both) the day the movie hits theaters and charged a pretty penny for them – would people buy or even rent them? It would be a perfect opportunity for the studios to get their ICT (image constraint token) forced on to users, so it would be mandatory that any first-run disc had to be played through a player that was connected digitally and therefore copy-protected. At the same time, it could open studios to consumers with large disposable incomes who simply do not go to the movie theater. Consumers would win, too, considering the added convenience, ease of use and lack of time commitment. At the same time, people wouldn’t stop going to the movies. The huge screen experience for some films is pretty hard to recreate, even with the biggest of plasma TVs.

Technological hurdles abound for this idea. First and foremost, digital copy protection schemes like HDCP would need to be far better than they are today. Right now, HDCP copy protection is a joke, leaving consumers and AV installers with no other option but to use component video cables to connect the HD output of these sophisticated HD disc players. HDMI version 1.3 promises to be much better than the poor functionality of HDMI 1.2. Assuming HDMI’s new connection protocol works as seamlessly as, say, Apple’s Firewire for Playstation 3, Hollywood would have an audience of a few million consumers for this idea in the next six months: young, tech-savvy kids and gamer Generation X consumers who are willing to spend $50 to $60 on a video game. Perhaps they would also spend a comparable sum to get a first-run movie while it was still in the theaters?

Assuming the copy protection got better, we are still talking about $100 for a movie that could be had a few months later on DVD for one fifth the price. The question still needs to be asked: would consumers really spend $100 per disc to buy a movie? History says yes. I can remember the day my father bought a front-folding big-screen TV from a store called Video Concepts in the Echelon Mall in Voorhees, New Jersey. The set must have cost him $8,000 at the time and the VCR, which was a tank, was north of $1,000 itself. But the real kicker back then was the movies. They cost a fortune, but we bought them anyway, because between cable TV (a new phenomenon at the time), Intellivision video games and this crazy contraption called a VCR, the value proposition was too good to resist. Clearly, this was a luxury, but it was at the time pretty damn cool. For some of the more well-heeled consumers today who don’t have the time for the movie theater or simply want the comfort and even safety of watching a movie at home, the idea of $100 for a movie isn’t so crazy.

The studios are going to need to think out of the box in order to deal with the idea that Generation X and especially Generation Y do not hold the physical movie theater in the same esteem as Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation. The answer isn’t as easy as beaming movies onto iPods or cell phones as much as it is to find a way to distribute movies into the 50,000,000-plus homes that have home theaters. In five years, the idea of a home without an HDTV and/or a player to play HD movies on will be hard to imagine. Hollywood might want to consider creative ways to get not just their fraction of the movie ticket price but to get the entire evening’s budget, because sometimes staying home and watching a movie is just better than going to the movies.

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