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Will we soon be able to watch brand new movies on our phones?

One of the biggest obstacle continues to be movie theaters that resist shortening the window between theatrical and home release.

Published onJanuary 6, 2015


“The Interview” is the most successful online release ever for a Hollywood movie. For the first time, customers were able to watch a new film from the comfort of their house and/or on their phone or tablet. Thanks to Sony Pictures Entertainment being hacked and movie theaters being threatened, Sony decided to release the film online at the same time that it hit select theaters.

“The Interview” then took in a surprising $15 million in its first four days of online sales and rentals. As the Los Angeles Times noted, “The Interview” was streamed or downloaded more than 2 million times over the holiday weekend after it was released on Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft’s Xbox Video and a stand-alone website on Christmas Eve, the day before it hit theaters.

But will we soon be able to watch more new films on our smartphones/tablets? Not likely.

Movie theaters continue to resist shortening the window between theatrical and home release. At the moment, theaters have imposed a 120 day window (although, some can get the movie after 90 days). Theater operators argue that making a movie available in the home at the same time as it appears in theaters takes away from the theatrical experience and discourages people from going to the cinema.


Meanwhile, customers who go to movie theaters wearing Google Glass are being detained and threatened, customers who record and send twenty seconds of the movie to a family member are being arrested and customers who record a group of girls celebrating a birthday party at a movie theater are being arrested and jailed for two days.

Let’s not also forget theater owners considering whether it would be a good idea to jam cell phone signals in their theaters to cut down on rude behavior and piracy. Nevermind that it was illegal at the time to jam cell phone signals.

It isn’t all on the movie theaters though as movie studios have financially enjoyed such an arrangement with the theaters. The business of releasing a movie in the theaters, then on DVD and then on HBO/Starz has reaped the movie studios many billions of dollars over many years.

But with DVD business sales declining heavily and ticket sales declining even more rapidly, movie studios are suddenly realizing that they need to open up new distribution streams. The problem for the movie studios is that most money made by the studios does come from movie theaters. Movie theater chains know this and use this fact to fight back against movie groups that they do not like.


For example, several months ago, Netflix agreed to finance the “Crouching Tiger” sequel. While the movie was supposed to be released on Netflix on the same day as it hit Imax theaters, most theaters across the country refused to screen the movie due to the Netflix availability. According to Regal, the nation’s largest cinema chain, they did not want to participate “in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to 3″ wide on a smart phone.”

This comes after several major movie theater chains refused to show the comedy “Tower Heist” after Universal Pictures wanted to make the movie available at an expensive price to consumers after three weeks from its launch at the theaters. When movie studios wanted to offer $30 video-on-demand movie rentals after the movie had been in theaters for 10 weeks, movie theater chains revolted.

Another victim in this business cycle are smaller theaters who continue to complain about the number of restrictions put in place by the movie studios due to exclusive deals signed with the major movie theater chains. For example, when “Gone Girl” debuted in October of last year, a number of small-town theaters in east Texas wanted to play the movie. But 20th Century Fox made the film available to only one venue in Kilgore, Texas, while other theaters would have to wait another week.

Going back to 2005, one poll (via TechDirt) showed that almost 75% of people preferred watching movies at home. That is 10 years ago when someone’s movie choices with streaming services were much more limited.

The movie industry openly admits to running a distribution pattern that has worked for decades. So, while technology is changing, the movie industry seems intent on trying to slow everything done for their own financial benefit. They will continue to pretend as if Netflix doesn’t exist and will threaten to ban any movies that don’t allow the theaters an absurd amount of window release time.


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