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Last week, some of the largest movie theater chains in the US (AMC, Cinemark, Carmike and Regal) and world (Cineworld & Cineplex) refused to show “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2” because the movie was scheduled to be released on Netflix at the same time it hit the theaters. In the US, this meant that at the very least, 115 of IMAX’s 418 screens would not be showing the movie on release day.

  • According to a Regal spokesman, they preferred to show movies “on a grand scale” and were not interested in showing a movie that was also being released on a “3-inch wide smart phone.”
  • According to a Cineworld spokesman, they had no interest in competing with a movie that could be played on “smaller, every-day screens like the TV or smartphones and devices” compared to their IMAX experience.

This type of anger by the movie theater industry should not surprise anyone. The movie industry in general seems to go nuts whenever new technology comes out. As TechDirt notes, when cable TV was exploding in 1959, Mary Pickford (a Hollywood star) claimed that cable TV would kill the movie theater. When the VCR was becoming popular, Jack Valenti (longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America) said that the VCR would be the “Boston strangler” to the movie business.

Over the last few years, movie theaters have upgraded seats and improved the quality  and size of the screens. But the movie experience in general continues to be plagued by ticket prices, food/drink prices and the general growing trend of wanting to watch movies in the comfort of one’s own home.

Add in new streaming media selections (Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Youtube, etc…), the growing use of piracy and an increase in home theaters being built and it isn’t hard to see that the movie experience itself continues to hinder the theaters, not the selection of movies.

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Movie theaters still believe that the way to move forward (even in the face of growing technology around them) is to continue forcing arbitrary and lengthy new release windows on the public and to act as if other means of seeing new movies don’t exist, whether legal or illegal. In fact, the movie theater industry seems to admit that their plan of keeping movies off other platforms for months does nothing other than help their own financial pockets.

Windowed release patterns are brilliant. Release a movie to different outlets over time so it can be sold to the same person multiple times. First see it in the theater, then buy or rent it, then catch it on cable or TV. Shorten the window and risk losing the ability to sell the product multiple times. – Hollywood Reporter

Studios and distributors have tried and failed a number of different times to shorten the 90-day window between a film being released in theaters and it’s debut on home-entertainment platforms.

  • When Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and 20th Century Fox tried offering “Tower Heist” for $60 only three weeks after being released in the theaters, many of the major theater chains pulled the movie and refused to show it.
  • When DirecTV wanted to offer $30 film rentals for movies ‘just’ 10-weeks after theater release, multiple theater chains pulled the films being considered for this option because they wanted to “protect the movie-going experience.” What the hell does that even mean? I haven’t even talked about the absurd logic in charging $30 for a rental of a movie.
  • When Steven Soderbergh announced plans to release new movies and DVDs at the same time, all major movie theater chains decided to boycott the film.

Then there is Netflix being forced to delaying new releases by 28 to 45 days if they want to secure licensing rights for streaming content. What exactly does this do other than encourage piracy?

Some studio executives continue to believe that making it as hard as possible for consumers to get their content will somehow increase DVD sales. As insane as this may sound, some executives prefer to make the the release window even LONGER. No wonder piracy continues to thrive.