Just like movie theaters edged out Vaudeville, movie theaters are now starting to feel the inexorable tug of progress.
But theaters are pushing back. A new campaign by theater owners will challenge Hollywood's plans to release movies online at the same time that they're in theaters.
Entertainment industry leaders are exploring the possibility of releasing digital versions of the films within a month or two of their theatrical debut. That could spell trouble for exhibitors like first-run exhibitors like the mostly-abandoned Metreon, which rely on exclusive showings to draw in crowds that spend big bucks on a buckets of popcorn and sugar-water.
Theater owners are appealing to distributors' finances, claiming that the simultaneous releases will be bad for everyone's bottom line. They also claim that movies don't look as good at home, and that filmmakers would prefer to have their work shown on the largest possible screen. That may be true, but it's consumers who vote with their dollars, and so far they're voting for watching movies at home.
Currently, downloadable films appear at the same time as DVDs, usually around 4 or 5 months after their theater run. But there's no reason, technologically, why the downloads can't start right away, especially since an increasing number of films arrive at theaters in digital form.
The online films won't come cheap: for immediate access, you might have to shell out $30 to $60.
Movie theaters might be able to buy a few more years with gimmicks like 3-D and larger screens. But in a decade, a trip to the movie theater might become as infrequent as a trip to see live theater.