Has the FCC Killed the Movie Theater?

In the small town of Muncy, Pennsylvania, there’s an independent theater called The Ritz. Featuring some of the latest releases out of Hollywood, The Ritz is a place to go on a Saturday night when you want to catch a flick. Tickets are cheap, and so is the food. It’s been around for almost a century and is a staple in the little town where there’s not much else to do. All across America though, independent theaters are about to be hit hard with the recent decision by the FCC to allow the MPAA to stream movies directly to your home.

This has been coming for a while now, so it’s no big surprise. What it means is that prior to a films release on DVD and Blu-Ray, Hollywood will be sending that movie out over a secure, high definition transmission line to your cable or satellite provider, allowing you to watch it in the comfort of your own home. The question is then: what’s going to happen to the movie theater? How about places like The Ritz in Muncy, or The Naro, in Norfolk, Virginia? When it begins spreading all over the world, what’s going to happen to the Mayfair Theater in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, or the Bloor Cinema in Toronto? Did the FCC just kill the movie theater? The answer, of course, is no. At least, not yet.

The issue before the FCC was a request by the MPAA to start using SOC (Selectable Output Control). This will allow televisions with a secure digital interface to receive the film via a cable, satellite, or IPTV provider. The SOC disables non-secure, analog outputs, thus avoiding illegal copying and distribution of the movie. This is a huge step forward in the way we view our movies, and one can’t help but wonder that with the advent of 3D TVs, what this could mean for the theaters that show these movies.

My guess is that these films will not be streamed into your home right upon their release. Maybe a month after, but yes, you will be able to see them before they hit the dying video store shelves, or even Netflix. Without knowing the exact cost, we can only assume that they won’t carry the same ticket price as a big theater movie, since there’s no employees to pay, concession stand to stock, or distribution costs to incur. It’s like the battle over ebook pricing, only with movies. It’s coming. Oh yes, it’s coming.

Back to the little guy, though. Independent theaters are not going away just yet. They still survive on Rocky Horror marathons, or showing other, classic cult favorites that are a must-see on the big screen and with friends. Sooner rather than later though, as this new technology takes off, and with large televisions become more inexpensive every year, and sound systems that rival that of a theater in your home, who’s to say the theater will not disappear? Would you pay $15 to see a 3D movie in town, when you can get it at home for half that, and with just as good a quality of picture? Probably not.

We’ll have to wait and see how this flies over time. Should enough people embrace this new decision by the FCC, look for ticket sales at even the large movie theaters to take even more of a dip than they have been. When that happens, then you’ll see a real David versus Goliath battle, as the big chains of theaters will no doubt have something to say about it. Until then, rest easy my dear friends, you can still catch your big budget flicks the way they are meant to be seen. Just don’t expect them to be around in the next 20 years, okay?