I come to you two days after watching the annual Oscar telecast wondering how much longer this sort of thing will be around — this movie industry. When will it be beaten to its knees just like the music industry has been, just like we’re seeing it happen to the book and publishing industry?
It will start with the death of the movie theater.
On the surface, the affordable, 50-inch flat-panel TV connected to the internet should be to the movie house what the iPod was to the music industry. Except for one thing – the allure of “the group experience.” I’ve always been of the mindset that no home theater could possibly match the excitement you get when the lights go down in a movie theater as the film begins, or when the audience gasps or laughs or cries together like one collective being. You cannot get that in your living room, right?
Watching movies at home “on demand” always seemed like something people do who are married with kids, who either don’t want to get a sitter or don’t want to haul their brats to the theater. I’ve talked to many a parent who has told me s/he hasn’t been to a theater since Jr. was born, and won’t be going back until Jr. leaves for college. Such is life.
But that ain’t me, babe. The only kids I have are the four-legged variety, and they’ve never seemed to mind if the missus and me leave the domicile for a few hours to catch a flick. They’ve got their chew toys to keep them company.
And then something strange happened a couple years ago. The people who run the Oscars thought it would be a good idea to expand the “Best Movie” category from five nominees to eight or nine or however many they want. I guess they thought it would be good for the industry, because everyone knows the phrase “Academy Award Nominee” drives people to see films they otherwise wouldn’t see, regardless of how much they suck.
But here’s how the greed is backfiring. Every year we try to watch all the Oscar-nominated films so when it come to awards night, we can thoughtfully agree or disagree with the idiots who actually voted for the winners. Seeing all five nominees was always difficult – especially in Omaha where at least one or two haven’t been screened yet – but it wasn’t impossible. However, when you’re talking about nine films…
So with Oscar night looming and having not seen four of the nine films, we did the only thing we could – for the first time ever, we stayed home and watched an Oscar-nominated film on pay per view. We used our Cox On Demand service, and it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of clicking around and selecting between menus but eventually we found the listing for “The Help,” available for $4.99 – a fraction of what we would have spent had we seen it at a movie house. There was no surround sound, and the picture quality on my 42-inch plasma was a mere shadow of what we would have experienced at a Cineplex.
But you know what? We still enjoyed the film. We didn’t mind that the screen was smaller and the sound was less all-encompassing. And there were other benefits we’d never considered. We didn’t have to try to listen over an ocean of swine stuffing wads of popcorn into their gaping maws, desperately trying to suck every last drop of diabetes-inducing sugar water from the bottom of their 96 oz. fountain drinks. We didn’t have to be annoyed by jackholes who insist on texting throughout the entire film – their idiot pumpkin faces glowing from their flashlight-bright iPhone screens. We didn’t have to hear the ongoing commentary from the f**ker behind us who – just before something happens – has to tell the person next to them that something is going to happen. And there were no crying kids. And there were no people getting up and down to take a piss every five minutes. And we didn’t have to go out in the cold. And we could eat cheap, healthier snacks stored in our humble pantry. And if we wanted to, we could be stark naked.
And best of all, stretched out across the dog beds that are our sofas, were Evie and Gilda, who we could never have taken with us.
See, this is how it started with digital music. When mp3s were introduced, most people knew there was a drop-off in quality compared to CDs. Cheapskates who were stealing the files anyway didn’t care, but the audiophiles weren’t budging. Over time, the quality of the music files got better and the prices for players got cheaper. And then cell phones turned into music players. And then new streaming services made listening to virtually any music – including new releases – as simple as doing a web search. And before you knew it, the compact disc was headed the way of the dinosaur, and you know who’s next?
I’m looking at you, movie theaters. The studios will hold back as long as they can, but it’s only a matter of time until we all have a choice between going to the theater to see movies on opening weekend or staying at home and watching them via the Internet from our “home theaters.” And as we’ve seen with music, if it’s a choice between convenience and quality, convenience will always win.
And before you know it, just like drive-ins (and record stores), theaters will begin to disappear, and we’ll all be stuck at home in front of our TVs wondering whatever happened to the movies.
Beyond Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on arts, culture, society and the media. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org