Yesterday, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas came down from their respective perches atop Mount Olympus and a huge pile of Disney Dollars to tell us all how the movie industry’s comeuppance was about to come: progressive pricing that would place a premium on big damn summer fare while squeezing smaller films out into the box office ghetto.
Coincidentally enough, today we’re getting a chance to sorta see what that looks like with Paramount’s World War Z Mega Ticket “Deal”. What does the mega deal get you? Well, according to Deadline, the $50 Mega Ticket includes:
[A]dmission to the June 19 3D showing of the flick, a download or stream of the film when it’s released on home video, custom 3D glasses, a limited-edition official movie poster and a small popcorn. […] The offer is good at megaplexes in Irvine, San Diego, Houston, Atlanta and Philadelphia.
Now, if you had already planned on seeing World War Z, you have a burning need for the above mentioned baubles, and you feel like that really is a value, then go nuts. But for people to think that this is a step toward the future that Spielberg and Lucas predicted, well, that’s hard to believe.
For one thing, the value of advanced screenings for the studios comes from word of mouth and buzz. That’s why such passes are often given away: the studios want to make the viewer (and potential viral marketing sleeper agent) comfortable with as little investment to justify as possible. That’s partly why some members of the press get into advanced screenings as well.
If you pay $50 to see World War Z early, that experience needs to justify that cost — moreso than if you had shelled out $10 bucks or seen it for free, because now your investment is much more than mere time or a few bucks and now it can be held accountable.
Put it this way: if I go to a fast food place and my burger is rubbery and tasteless, I’m going to be displeased. If I go to a nice restaurant and get a $50 steak that is equally rubbery and tasteless, I’m going to be pissed, I’m going to complain, and I’m going to let people know about it the experience.
Is Paramount sure that they’re offering up a $50 steak that is worth the price? For their sake, I hope so, but in light of the chatter surrounding World War Z, with stories about a set in chaos, re-writes, and no planned ending, well… it seems like Paramount could have used all the good buzz and word of mouth that they could get.
To the larger point, with regard to the theory about progressive ticketing, — and Luke did a nice job talking about that last night — I’d add that the embrace of that new model would have to assume that theater owners had suddenly become eager to be complicit in their own destruction, because I can’t imagine the National Association of Theater Owners fighting such a shift with any less ferocity than they have in the fight against smaller theatrical to home release windows ( a fight to keep the theater experience away from extinction).
Why is that? Well, the economics of the situation boil down to this: theater’s make a ton of their money on concessions, not the movie tickets themselves. What is required for concession sales? People, and if packages like this or progressive pricing become commonplace, it would price out a large segment of the market, because for most of us, this is a time of “No fucking around” when it comes to our finances, a time when the weighty line between the black and red of a budget jumps right off the kitchen table to crawl up our guts before sliding across our necks.
People can barely afford the cost of a standard ticket right now, let alone some ratcheted up price, and so while we shouldn’t hold our breaths for a break or mercy, we should be confident that for as long as the studio’s need to appease theater owners (and they will until such a time as our infrastructure can promise as impactful and lucrative a VOD release as the present model offers for theatrical releases), we won’t have to worry about progressive pricing being anything more than an annoying gimmick. A gimmick that, for now, only faintly threatens the magical and communal nature of seeing a movie in a packed theater and irreplaceable signature experiences like IMAX, the Alamo Drafthouse, the dying drive in, the reRun theater in Brooklyn, and several others.