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Day-and-Date Movie Releases Are Still Rare; Is a Change Coming?
Who needs the movie theater when viewers can stream HD video directly to their TV sets? The movie theater owners, that's who.

There’s so much streaming video available nowadays, it seems criminal to complain about the selection. There are more recent releases, catalog titles, TV series, sporting events, children’s shows, and online originals than a person could ever hope to sit through. But there’s one category you never find (on legit sites, anyway): studio movies that are still in theaters.

Day-and-date releases make theater owners angry, so they’re pretty rare.

Hollywood studios would be happy to experiment with online offerings, but they can’t afford to upset their distribution partners. That’s why when you do see a day-and-date release, it’s for a smaller title that doesn’t depend on box office returns.

“I don’t think they’re willing to do it with any of the big tent pole blockbuster movies at this point. I think you’re down in tier two, tier three stuff where there’s minimal downside to them for trying it,” says Joel Espelien, a senior advisor at research firm TDG.

Espelien has become the go-to analyst on the topic. I asked him if he sees a future for day-and-date. He does, but only if we all stop going to the movies.

“Box office last year was off,” Espelien says. “I think if box office continues to be off, you’re going to see more movies enter this space. If box office even remains flat, I think they won’t, just knowing how studios think about their businesses. They tend to only move if they see significant decline.”

This was news to me. Judging by the Monday morning box office tallies, I thought we were all going to the movies as much as we ever did. But apparently, we’re all staying home to binge-watch Daredevil.

At the time of our conversation, Espelien was working on a report showing the big streaming market Hollywood is missing: luxury homes. Espelien thinks Hollywood should offer more day-and-date releases, but position the feature as a high-end premium service, something for affluent households.

The whole entertainment industry has missed that market, he believes. The well-off aren’t interested in going to movie theaters and they don’t have the time, anyway, he says, but they’d still like to see the pictures everyone is talking about.

If such a service were to have a chance of catching on, Espelien thinks it would have to be priced attractively—around $20 to $30 per title. That sounds like a bargain to me. I think any family with kids would jump on it at that price.

Espelien pointed out that there already is a day-and-date streaming service for well-off homes, but it’s for the top 1 percent, not the top 10 percent. Called Prima Cinema, it requires professional equipment installation, which runs $35,000 plus labor. Movies go for $500 each (paid in advance in a package).

For the rest of us, mainstream day-and-date releases aren’t a matter of “if” but of “when,” Espelien believes.

“In some form, it’s inevitable,” he says. “I think that consumers demand choice and convenience across the board in terms of when they consume content and how they consume it. Forcing you to get in a car and move yourself to a theater and plop yourself in front of someone else’s screen for 2 hours and then come home is a system that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in 2015. I think it’s inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Maybe not, but I wish it would. Not because I want to avoid going to movie theaters (it’s one of the few times I get out of the house, after all). I want it to happen soon so I can see those Prima Cinema owners’ faces when they realize they paid $35,000 for something everyone can get on their home TVs.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Will Day-and-Date Movie Releases Ever Become Standard?”

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