Am I alone in thinking that filmmakers and exhibitors have embraced the digital cinema transition with more enthusiasm, creativity and intelligence than the Hollywood studios? Given that Hollywood started the drive to digital, that would be incredibly ironic. I ask this because, last week in Vanity Fair, Nicole Sperling wrote a fascinating article about the current debate apparently raging in Hollywood over the question: what is a movie? But the article raised a different question for me: in the second decade of the digital cinema era, what is a movie theatre?
From the earliest days of feature length films until the 1980s, the movie going experience typically happened in a very large theatre with a really big screen. Faced with rising costs and increasing competition from television, exhibitors of that sad era cut their buildings into multi-screen complexes to increase ticket sales and maximize profits on concessions. Today, faced with a different set of economic realities, exhibitors around the world are increasingly responding by creating movie palaces that rival all but the most spectacular theatres of the turn of the last century. One trend at this year’s CinemaCon, which wrapped up last week, was the continuing rise of premium large format theatres. Another trend was the almost comical trashing of Netflix. PLF theatres and Netflix are both here to stay; we’ve been here before
Netflix this week committed to streaming its movies in both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision high-dynamic range formats. It is the first global on-demand service to commit to combining both formats. Okja, the critically praised Netflix Original Film, is the first film available in both formats. Additional Dolby-supported titles are coming soon, and the catalog will continue to grow. Okja will be released to select movie theatres this week as well. Netflix has raised the stakes again.
Let’s be clear about one thing: there is no such thing as alternative content. People do not leave the comfort of their homes to pay twenty dollars and more to sit in a movie theatre to watch something inferior or alternative. They gladly pay higher ticket prices because they enjoy events targeted at their specific interests. For big screens, great sound and comfortable reclining seats in a room with like-minded people. For the shared experiences of opera, theatre, concerts, sports, and more: a wide and growing range of programs. These aren’t alternatives to anything; these are events that, until only recently, people could never see this way. And let’s be clear about one more thing: Netflix will play a major roll in the future of event cinema.