Prima Cinema

Apparently there are those willing to pay upwards of $500 to watch a movie, and very soon there will be a place for them to do just that. A Los Angeles-based start-up company called Prima Cinema is proposing a service which will bring theatrically-released Hollywood films to the comfort of your own home the same day they hit theaters, a move that Hollywood has occasionally dallied with despite the objections from studio marketers and theater exhibitors.

If $500 PER MOVIE sounds ridiculously expensive, just consider the $20,000 one-time cost of a digital-delivery system needed to view the films. According to the company's website, the system consists of a rack-mounted PRIMA Cinema Player and the PRIMA Biometric Reader. Once you prove yourself as the owner of the unit by scanning your thumb print (or maybe your eye?), the system automatically delivers a film to the player via a broadband connection. No waiting to begin watching, as the player, which can be connected to your existing audio and video equipment via an HDMI cable, provides instant watching capability with no buffering.

Due to its steep price, it's difficult to take this announcement with anything less than a healthy dose of skepticism as the product's market is most certainly minuscule at best (in other words, your and I will never see this in our homes anytime soon), and will thereby likely be a worthless barometer of the current studio "release windows" in which the studios stagger the distribution of movies through different channels to maximize profit. Traditionally, movies have been released to theaters first, then pay-per-view outlets, then subscription channels and home video, etc. This windowing doesn't appear to be working, however, as DVD/bu-ray sales continue to decline, having lost 43% of revenue since the peak in 2006.

Though a $20,000 set-up and $500 per movie sounds almost comical, Prima appears to be really serious about the move as it already has the cooperation of all six major studios as well of some of the independents and has also received more than $5 million in seed money from such heavyweights as BestBuy and Universal Pictures with a target date of a year from now for launch.

Color us jaded, but at its current price point there's no way this will expand beyond the tiny clique of film industry power guys tucked away in their Bel-Air mansions who already receive first-run movie prints. Enough to recoup the investment for finding a new movie distribution model? We hardly think so. Especially considering the huge push-back surely to come from the theater owners lobby.

"While this is a niche market, there is a chance for significant upside," says Adam Fogelson, chairman of Universal Pictures, which holds a minority stake in Prima. "And precisely because it is a niche market, that upside should come without harming any of our existing partners or revenue streams."

Here's a thought: the easiest way to reverse declining movies sales shouldn't be such the mystery Hollywood has made it out to be. Here's the answer: stop churning out crap. Though that sounds way too simplistic a solution, history shows revenue often swings wildly from some years to the next, usually based on quality of movies offered. Fewer sequels, reboots, and rehashes. More creativity. The solution shouldn't be born from the ponderings of "how do we make more money from what we currently do?" It should be, "what can we do that is new to make more money." And yet another channel to distribute bad movies isn't something new.

Perhaps we consumers shouldn't be grousing too much over the current $11 ticket price. Apparently it can get worse.