CinemaCon: Are Consumers Willing to Pay $50 to See New Movies at Home?

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"Most see this service as displacing existing moviegoing behavior," a new MarketCast study finds.

How interested are moviegoers in a system that would offer them the option of watching films at home, for $50 per pop, the same day they debut in theaters?

An independent study conducted by research company MarketCast returned a mixed verdict, the results of which will probably be used by both advocates and opponents of the controversial Screening Room proposal.

The Screening Room, Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju's proposed service that would offer home viewers the opportunity to rent new movies, the same day they hit theaters, for $50 via an encrypted set-top box costing $150, has been debated throughout the halls and over dinner at the current CinemaCon exhibitors convention in Las Vegas, and the Marketcast survey isn't likely to end that debate. 

While one in four consumers said that they would “definitely” pay to use such a service — the Screening Room wasn't specifically mentioned by name in the survey —  a larger number, one in three, said that they would “definitely not” pay to use the service, citing resistance to the cost and the requirement of adding another piece of hardware to their own systems. Half of those surveyed said they "strongly agreed" that they liked the experience of going out to the theater, and a day-and-date premium VOD service could not replace that.

That $50 price tag proved a stumbling block for some, but not others. More than 40 percent of parents with children under 12 said they had "definite interest in paying to use" the service, compared to only 15 percent of non-parents, in part because parents see the total cost of going to the theater as $49 per visit, while non-parents pegged the cost at $29 per visit. Half the parents also agreed that the service would be a great way to entertain their kids. But the idea of buying a new set-top box sent up a red flag, with 80 percent of those surveyed reacting negatively.

“This issue is not cut and dried, it’s actually fairly complicated,” said MarketCast vp and study co-author Chris Rethore. “Interest in a new premium VOD service was concentrated among those who are the most active in the category. These consumers — especially parents — are more aware of the fully loaded costs of moviegoing and have additional incentives to want early access to some films at home. But these consumers are also hugely important to the economics of the current theatrical model, and most see this service as displacing existing moviegoing behavior — not expanding their paid consumption of entertainment content overall."

That final point is likely to be seized upon by critics of the Screening Room. The study found that those one-in-four consumers interested in the service would likely use it to supplant a visit to a movie theater. And so it would not increase overall demand for movies — as the system's proponents have argued — but simply divide the pie up differently. "There was little to suggest that the service was additive to overall demand for first-run movies," the report concluded.

The study, which Marketcast said it undertook independently, was conducted in March among 1,200 American entertainment consumers age 18-64.