I have a great deal of respect for Andrew Robinson and his AV blog, especially considering his background in AV and his career as a filmmaker. Today I read his thesis that the combination of streaming and 4K will kill the commercial theater, and I have to say, I thought it was dead wrong.
I have seen many theses like this before. Technology epidemics sweep through society and kill off well established industries. It’s the classic Buggles prophecy of “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The truth is though, it hasn’t historically happened that way.
Books are still printed in the era of iBooks and Kindle; newspapers are still printed in the wake of USAToday.com; radio still has a vast audience decades after the introduction of TV; AM and FM still exist next to Satellite and HD radio; Video Teleconferencing hasn’t stopped business travel; and 4k will not kill the commercial theater anytime soon.
This is the same Buck Rogers and the 21st Century panic that spurred the eugenics movement in the 30’s to sterilize the weaker races and mentally retarded as world population would grow at a level unsustainable, turning earth into one big ghetto if action was not taken ASAP. That never happened either.
The truth is, commercial theaters have no reason to worry. If you take Robinson’s other theory that media discs will be replaced by streaming, because it’s “not about quality” but convenience, then really 4k should have absolutely zero to do with the demise anyway. If it’s not about quality, and about instant gratification, then Netflix should have already slung David’s stone at the Studio giants. I haven’t heard the resounding thud of Goliath yet.
The truth is that the movies are a social experience. Going to a film and viewing it with 200 other people creates an emotional climate that differs from sitting in your basement with 1 70” flat panel and some strobe-ur-vision glasses. I never laughed harder at a movie than I did in a theater the first time I saw Something About Mary or American Pie, two films that weren’t nearly as funny at home. The effect of hundreds laughing simultaneously is contagious, and it feels good.
I was never more scared at a movie than when I saw Christian Bale and Samuel L. duke it out in Shaft at a midnight showing in an urban theater. I was one of two suburban white guys in a theater full of Hispanics and African Americans yelling at the screen in what seemed like foreign dialects. It was exhilarating and a great cultural experience for me.
I would also argue that as long as parents have young kids at home, the movies will be alive and well. Being married for 12 years, any escape that provides 2 hours of relief is welcome, and well worth paying $87 for $1.32 worth of popcorn and soda.
Instant gratification is great, but escape is better. In a dark theater you’re not looking at your phone, getting up to check email, or pausing the movie to check on a coughing child upstairs, or turning down the subwoofer so no one wakes up.
IT is an environment that submerges you in the movie without interruption, creates a community you can’t recreate by live tweeting through a film at home, and ultimately allows you to socialize in a very unique way with other humans by sharing an experience.
This is the reason we see movies released again in theaters, like Star Wars or Titanic or Avatar. It’s because the Silver Screen has a lot to offer, even when you have 4K and 7.1 already at home.