Technology Column

Kick your couch to the curb — the movie theater is the new Netflix

Casey Russell | Head Illustrator

By making movies affordable, MoviePass just might be able to save theaters and the big-screen experience.

It’s become cliché to refer to any exciting new subscription-based service as the “Netflix of” something. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited reading service is the “Netflix for books,” and Sony’s on-demand streaming game service for PlayStation is the “Netflix for games,” just to name a couple.

Now MoviePass aims to be the “Netflix for movie theaters.” For $9.95 per month, MoviePass subscribers get a debit card that allows them to see 365 movies, or one per day, in a year. Five theaters near Syracuse already accept MoviePass, including the Regal Destiny USA Stadium.

MoviePass’ subscription model mirrors Netflix’s, which is no surprise considering it’s the creation of Netflix co-founder Mitch Lowe. And by making the world fall back in love with movie theaters, MoviePass could be just as successful.

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Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor

From its days as a Blockbuster-to-your-door DVD mailing service to its current reputation as an anything-on-demand web portal, Netflix is most responsible for how the entertainment industry looks today. For the most part, the days of must-see TV and nationwide box office smashes are gone. They’ve been replaced by Netflix Original Series full-season drops and monthly updates to the service’s movie and TV series backlogs.

Video entertainment has been freed from the grasps of DVD and Blu-ray disc manufacturers, big film studios and networks. Now, we have a system where you can watch nearly any movie you want, whenever you want, wherever you want.

But in the process of on-demanding everything, something’s been lost. Chris Hanson, a professor at Syracuse University who specializes in media studies and emerging media, said he thinks movies are a media format intended for screening in a theater.

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Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor

“Film has historically been made to be seen in a darkened theater on a large screen,” Hanson said in an email, adding that the experience of viewing films in a theater is “far more engaging” than watching on a small screen while surrounded by everyday distractions.

As filmmaker David Lynch once crudely said in a video interview, those consuming a film on a smartphone “will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you have experienced it, but you’ll be cheated.”

Even though Hanson is a self-professed “film purist,” he has a point — and that’s coming from a progressive-minded tech columnist. There’s a tangible difference between watching a comedy in a packed theater with a roaring audience and alone in bed on a filthy 12-inch laptop screen with your Chinese takeout from the other night.

Unlike Netflix, MoviePass is a technology company looking to refresh an old idea — and it knows there can be an environment where movies at home and in the theater can coexist.

Although MoviePass may be set up for success in the profit-hungry theater business, its whole operation could be undermined if theater companies refuse to accept them. AMC Theatres, the largest theater chain in the United States, fired warning shots at MoviePass in the wake of its price drop. In an official press statement, AMC stated its intention to block MoviePass customers from using the service at its hundreds of theaters across the country.

It’s unclear how AMC plans to do this. Since MoviePass operates through a debit card that charges tickets at full price with no cost to the theater, AMC would essentially be turning down good business if it opts out.

Change is hard, and MoviePass knows this. If its executives are smart, they’ll stick to their guns and keep on with their grand plan to build a massive media company and make the theaters pay for it later.

If MoviePass becomes big enough and ticket sales improve substantially, companies like AMC might not be able to afford turning away their business for much longer. This scrappy digital solution to a technologically-created problem might be their only hope.

Brett Weiser-Schlesinger is a senior newspaper and online journalism and information management and technology dual major. He can be reached by email at bweisers@syr.edu or on Twitter at @brettws.

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