Would You Pay Less For a Movie You Could Watch Only On Your Phone?

By  · Published on April 30th, 2014

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

I love when Jeffrey Katzenberg has predictions about the movie industry. Here’s a guy who thought 3D was going to change everything. I mean, it could have, and I was with him back in 2006, but that got ruined fast (don’t even get me started on how bad The Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks, especially in the first two action scenes). He’s also a guy who seemed to have it all figured out about revolutionizing the feature animation game when he left Disney, but now of course he’s losing money on one bad idea after another (not that I ever though Shrek was a good idea). Now his latest prophecy is as silly as they get: the DreamWorks Animation head thinks by 2024 we will be paying variable prices for movie content based on the size of the screen. Yep, that would mean your Netflix subscription would monitor whether you were watching on a phone, tablet, laptop, modest size TV or big screen TV.

Who knows what the deal would be on monitor and projector hookups to your computer, the latter potentially blowing up your picture to fill your wall, but then he also rattles off prices as if movie theater tickets will still only be $15. Katzenberg’s idea came up during some panel about entrepreneurial leadership on Monday. Variety quoted him as saying,

I think the model will change and you won’t pay for the window of availability. A movie will come out and you will have 17 days, that’s exactly three weekends, which is 95% of the revenue for 98% of movies. On the 18th day, these movies will be available everywhere ubiquitously and you will pay for the size. A movie screen will be $15. A 75” TV will be $4.00. A smartphone will be $1.99. That enterprise that will exist throughout the world, when that happens, and it will happen, it will reinvent the enterprise of movies.

The prices he gives are really what those costs are today, only at different times of release. $15 is what a movie ticket costs, and it’s close to what a VOD rental costs for a day-and-date film. $4 is VOD during the later window around or right before the DVD release. And $1.99 is an iTunes rental for a TV show and sometimes a movie that’s not brand new. So, he thinks they’ll all overlap, because we’re that conscious or set on some sort of “convenience” for how we watch? Won’t the people just go for whatever is cheapest? Well, maybe there’s still something to be said for sitting around the TV – especially since you can tend to have multiple viewers in front of a TV but you don’t usually with a phone. But aside from a smaller lot of us and aside from a small number of circumstances, I bet many people would just choose to sit on the couch looking at their phones instead of their TV for most content.

Imagine what that will do to the content once everything is getting more ratings on the teeny size screens. Why not just go for a 50-cent version where the screen is the size of your watch? Say goodbye to anything with spacious cinematography that necessitates a big screen. Everything’s going to be close-ups on faces more than even when TVs were becoming the normal platform for viewers. But aren’t we going to be watching things in our minds or the cloud or virtual reality or something within the next 10 years? How much will a virtual screen inside glasses or contacts or a brain chip be in comparison? Can that be measured?

Certainly the theater industry will have a fit over this, though maybe not too vocally. When Katzenberg mentions the majority revenue made in the first three weeks, he means for the distributor/studio. The theater owners make more of their money only if the movie plays longer. He makes it sound like the movies will stay in theaters longer, just that it’ll be a higher price at that time relative to every other option out there. Only those of us who really like seeing a movie on a big screen will care to, and that number will likely dwindle when the comfort is weighed against the idea. I can’t see an industry surviving on that model, and if it doesn’t survive, Katzenberg’s whole idea collapses.

But as with anything moviegoing related, it’s a matter of what the people think. So, how about it? Would you be cool with movies being cheaper the smaller you watch them and vice versa? You can wait until after you see ASM2, which I honestly think I’d rather have watched on my phone. I’ve never said that about a summer blockbuster in my life.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.