How will we watch films in future? The anti piracy adverts in the cinema suggest that they are worried that cinemas days are numbered as a way of watching films. I don’t see that happening but things are clearly changing. Back in 2010 I streamed a film called Frozen, it is my understanding that it was available online, on DVD and in cinemas at the same time. Is this the future? There could be more to it than that. If I think back to my childhood around 1981 we got our first VCR, this is the moment I got hooked on movies, as I remember it the first film I watched on video was Superman (1978). Before this moment I had only ever seen films on TV, I am sure I must have seen others but the only ones I can remember were Star Wars (1977) and Robin and Marian (1976). Sometime in the mid 80’s we borrowed a Videodisc system. The quality was infinitely better than VHS, unfortunately, we only had a very limited number of films (Rocky (1976) and its first two sequels (1979) and (1982), Hang ‘Em High (1968), Blue Thunder (1983) and Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983) including a making of documentary). I watched those movies a lot!
Then at the age of eighteen, I rediscover the oldest format for watching movies, the cinema. Up until that point I can only remember going to the cinema seven times. As a child of my generation I grew up with video, but at the age of eighteen I went to university and met a likeminded group of friends who watched movies at the cinema. The first two films I saw at this time were reissues of movies that at the time had not been given a video release: Reservoir Dogs (1992) and The Exorcist (1973). I now watch at least one hundred films at the cinema each year (making up for lost time?). I still maintain that this is the best way to watch films but understand others think differently. Many people enjoy going to the cinema but for their own reasons, often financial or logistic only go on special occasions or for big event films. Other chose to watch movies at home out of preface. This is made easier by the falling price and improving quality of home entertainment equipment. But what format will people be watching? I still own many VHS videos, I caught on to DVD relatively early on in the late 90’s but have never owned a LaserDisc and am yet to get a Blu-ray player. I also subscribe to a DVD rental company that also offer a streaming service so have a foot in the old and the new camps.
The changes are easy to see, we have already seen the demise of the video store in favour online DVD postal services, then there was a report last year suggesting that Blu-ray Sales will Surpass DVD Sales some time this year. In America, Netflix reported earlier this year that it has nearly twice as many subscribers to their streaming service as the DVD service. this may have something to do with the fact that they only offer a streaming service here in the UK. This I believe is where things are going. I remember in late 90’s a program on TV looking at the possibility of a Video on demand service via the internet or telephone lines, the conclusion was that it was not going to be feasible and would lose out to “Box Office” type services from satellite and cable TV providers. Look at how far we have come and how wrong they were! It can not be long before it is possible to stream movies the same quality as Blu-ray, Netflix already offer high definition streaming.
Will there still be a market for owning a version of a movie on a disk/tape or similar? Will streaming take over or will people store them on some sort of hard drive the way they now do with MP3 music files? When we want to watch a movie do we go to our “library” or do we go online? Things have changed at the cinema too, I wrote a few months ago about how I miss celluloid as cinemas move over to digital projection. The greatest benefit of digital projection is the reduced cost in comparison to proving prints, this in theory makes it easier for smaller releases to make their way onto the big screen. It is also resulting in more reissues of older films. This takes us back to the start and the movie Frozen, if a movie is only ever going to exist in a digital state, it makes it easy for a simultaneous multi platform release, but is that where things are going? Some people believe that multi platform release will kill cinema trade, others think it will have no effect on cinemas but will help prevent piracy. Unfortunately it is something we will never know until we try it. On the MILFCAST earlier this month director Blayne Weaver talks about how his movie 6 Month Rule (2012) had a theatrical premier before going onto Video on Demand. Earlier this year Iron Sky (2012), in the UK it was release in cinemas for just one single day. Its popularity led to the cinema release being extended. It has been suggested that in that first day the movie was seen by more people than it would have been if it had been given a standard release for a week or two. It soon became available to rent and buy on DVD.
The simple conclusion is I don’t know what new technology will emerge and who will win the next Betamax v VHS or HD DVD v Blu-ray battle. DVD/Blu-ray will probably suffer more than cinema from internet advances, but people will continue to enjoy movie at home and in cinemas.