Although the tone of Moore’s article is somewhat apocalyptic, and he seems to think that 4D cinema is the way out (which I don’t), he’s nevertheless absolutely correct when he writes that: “Netflix is working mightily to expand its reach worldwide, so far including Latin America, Canada, and the U.K., with Europe next up at bat. When Netflix is done, people in every part of the world will be its customers, and those customers will be able to toggle what language they want to watch a film in. This trend corresponds to the shrinking of the piracy window (the time between the theatrical window and the home video window), so by the time Netflix has a worldwide reach, it will also probably be available day and date with the theatrical release.
This trend will have a huge effect on how independent films are financed. Right now, independent filmmakers raise funds by selling their films through ‘pre-sales’ on a country-by-country basis to local distributors, but a worldwide VOD reach will rip the heart out of these sales, because it will destroy the value of DVD and pay TV rights to the local distributors. The net result will be that independent films will be financed by pre-sales to Netflix, not the local distributors. Instead of going to the Cannes Film Festival, filmmakers could be going to Las Vegas for a digital convention in order to pre-sell VOD rights to Netflix. Indeed, Netflix will likely expand from creating original series to creating its own large budget films, with the initial premiere on-line. Netflix may be a vibrant, important source of new financing that disrupts the studio system and bypasses standard distribution channels.”
It’s probably true, as Moore says, that “worldwide VOD reach will rip the heart out of these sales, because it will destroy the value of DVD and pay TV rights to the local distributors” but the problem with this of course is that it’s more concentration in the hands of a few — everyone wants the “master switch” as Adolph Zukor put it, and Tim Wu so effectively explored in his book of the same title. So Amazon has destroyed all the bookstores, iTunes and Amazon together have destroyed all the recorded music stores, Netflix and Amazon have destroyed all the local video stores, and what we have left is a handful of worldwide conglomerates that essentially control all the content we read, listen to, or watch. This isn’t good for anyone, but I can’t help but wondering; when will it collapse? This isn’t the end game here, folks, it’s just a step somewhere along the line.
And when Moore argues that “in order to compete against collapsing windows and high-def, surround-sound, home entertainment centers, theaters are going to have to offer a better experience, and a big part of this is going to be 4D seats, which move to match the film (where you feel like you are flying when a jet is onscreen), and 3D sound, which seems to come from different angles at different times around you, like raindrops falling near you. I have experienced both of these, and the results are astounding. Theaters are going to have to get on this bandwagon or be relegated to bowling alley locations,” I just think he’s dead wrong.
This approach may work in the short term, but in the long term, as JK Rowling observed in a different context, it’s content that matters above everything else. This is just bells and whistles stuff, and there’s only so many ways you can be jostled around in a theater seat, or rained on, poked and prodded, and so forth. These tactics were tried in the 1950s by William Castle and others, when TV became a threat, and it worked for a while — even Alfred Hitchcock shot a film, Dial M for Murder, in 3D — but as he said later, 3D was a nine day wonder, “and I came in on the ninth day.”