When I recently got an email from a PR firm talking about a movie being available in Virtual Theaters, the subject matter of the email read “Opening in Virtual Theaters and VOD in August.” I had to ask the PR person what a Virtual Theater was. She did not answer, so I did the google search.
With theaters closings due to the Covid-19 coronavirus, and as turmoil roils in the entertainment industry, many film distributors and theater owners have been scrambling to find ways to keep their businesses alive.
Quickly, art-house theaters began working with distributors to adopt “virtual theater” models. It works like this: Patrons buy a “ticket” to a film through a theater that had initially planned to show it. They receive a link to watch the movie, usually within a window of a few days, often with a “marquee” branded by the individual theater. And theaters and distributors share the profits from the ticket sale, which means those businesses have a higher chance of still being viable when the crisis has passed. When the film’s “theatrical” run is over, the tickets will no longer be available (though most films will eventually come to on-demand services weeks or months later).
The idea is, this virtual theater boom will let people from all over the country — including those who don’t live anywhere near a theater that would have shown the film under normal circumstances — can now see the movie during its “theatrical” run and participate in conversations about it, all while giving business to an independent film distributor somewhere and a theater.
It’s a Cool Marketing Idea. But it is ridiculous.
My issue is, at the same time I am seeing this happening, I also see movies go right to On-Demand on every platform. On-Demand is easy to use, and I see the movie right then on my TV.
BTW… Movies are making more money in most cases On-Demand than they would in theaters. I think Trolls did something like a billion in On-Demand with no theatrical run.
When I really think about it, On-Demand on my FireTV or Apple TV is a million times easier to use than seeing a movie advertisement from a theater I once went to and renting it there, and then trying to get it to your TV to watch. Some articles said all you need to do is play the movie on your TV and Chromecast it to your TV.
Virtual Theater is an attempt by Theaters to make money from you on movies you may have seen in their theaters if they were open.
And you know what? It is a ridiculous idea that I am not buying in to.
Theaters are the new cab companies when Uber came along. For years, theaters overcharged us for tickets, offered shitty service, overcharged us for snacks and drinks, and now that there is a better alternative, they desperately stick out their greedy hands to grab more of our money while offering even less service than before.
Giant TVs and surround sound are within everyone’s reach today. It is a better experience to see 90% of movies at home. Think about it. No rude kids behind the counter charging you 12$ for a coke and $10 for a bucket of day-old popcorn. No more having to use dirty bathrooms. The AMC theater I would go to had disgusting bathrooms, and the place, in general, felt like a health hazard, but they did nothing about it because they were the only game in town.
I went to that nasty AMC because if I wanted to see a movie I was looking forward to seeing right away, it was my only choice, just like those nasty cabs where at one time. I have not ridden in a taxi in years, and I never will again because when they were the only game in town, they treated us with disdain, and they knew we had to put up with the shitty service because we have no choice. When they were the only game in town, they made sure we knew it and knew we were lucky to get what we got.
I will say, there may be those rare exceptions out there in the theater world of incredible service and experience, but I have not experienced them.
Bottom line, You guys blew it. You had me, and instead of turning me into a raving fan, every time I walked away, the only value I felt was the movie, not the movie experience.
You relied on the latest theater tech and forgot about service in the process. It’s like the movies themselves, which for a long time, forgot about the heart of the film, which is the story and relied on blowing shit up in new cooler and louder ways.
So, where does this leave me? I am not giving money to a Theater to watch a movie in my own home. Even if you try to put lipstick on that pig and call it a Virtual Theater, I am not buying it.
I have learned that in every experience in life, there is an opportunity to learn. The theaters and the cab companies taught me that no company can every take their customers for granted. When you do this, the customer does not ignore what you are doing. The second there is another choice; they will jump ship faster than those first-class ladies on the Titanic.