Sports

Will We Someday Watch Blockbuster Movies the Way We Watch Blockbuster Fights?

Steven Zeitchik
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Much of the US was consuming not one but two phenomena simultaneously, a parallel display of mega-entertainment.

There were plenty of factors to chew over in analyzing why “Avengers: Age of Ultron” took in $188 million at the weekend box office — the second-biggest opening of all time but nonetheless lower than both pre-weekend estimates and the opening total for the first movie.

Perhaps the most popular, and intriguing, is that sales fell due to the Floyd Meathweather-Manny Pacquiao-fight. The HBO-Showtime pay-per-view event, at $100 a pop, managed to attract several million paying customers (and plenty more watching in bars and on Periscope) on Saturday night. It’s reasonable to assume that a whole bunch of them might have headed out to “Avengers” had they not been so focused on the bobbing and weaving at the MGM Grand.

The convergence of these two events, while of course a coincidence, offered a kind of neat symmetry. In one instance, you had some much-hyped superheroes and villains creating on-screen pyrotechnics for a mass audience. In the other you had . . . a Marvel movie.

That may sound like a punchline but in truth it was a rare occasion, especially in these fragmented days: Much of the country was consuming not one but two phenomena simultaneously, a parallel display of mega-entertainment.

But it may be more than a parallel. The fight might have offered a glimpse into how the release of a future movie like “Avengers” could play out.

The talk has long been that new tent-pole movies could be retailed in the same way as pay-per-view fights: as major home-viewing events, at a steep price tag, for people who’d rather stay in their living rooms than go to the theater. At a cable convention in 2008 a Comcast executive laid out, with some specificity, how such a plan might unfold.

Of course such talk had been going on for years before that speech—and it’s gone on for years since. Yet there still is not a major studio release that has tried to bust up these windows, the system by which big movies spend a few months in theaters near you before coming to a cable or digital platform in your home. Not even Universal, which is now owned by Comcast, has tried defying this timing. The notion of a video-on-demand tent pole has become a little like Mark Twain’s weather — everyone talks about the possibility, but nobody does anything about it.

Mayweather-Pacquiao offers some concrete proof that this may not be just idle talk, or at least shouldn’t be.

Sure, studios have held back to a great extent because theaters remain an important partner, and the politics (and arguably the ethics) of going around them is thorny. Just look at what happened when Netflix began getting into the feature business.

But a separate question has played into that decision — namely, could expensive tent-pole on-demand programming make enough dough? Not by charging the few bucks it costs to watch an indie film on-demand while or before it’s in theaters, but the serious money required to pay for a massive production. Would there be enough revenue to justify the experiment and risk upsetting theater owners? Would millions of households pay a premium price — studios would need to charge much more than a single-admission movie ticket, $50 and up — to make it worthwhile for studios?

Judging by the early estimates for Mayweather-Pacquiao, the answer is yes. We’re willing to dip into our nest egg to experience a one-off major event at home. Couch business is real business.

Granted, there are plenty of distinctions. A movie isn’t quite the live event a boxing match is, though judging by the speed and decibel level at which opening-weekend movies are consumed these days, it’s not that far. There are plenty of people who will want to see a film like “Avengers” on a giant tableaux, especially if they’re also going to see it in 3-D (in this case, about a quarter of people who bought tickets did so, according to Disney sales figures) or IMAX.

But a lot of people spent $100 (or chipped in to spend $100) rather than find a local watering hole where they could watch the fight Saturday for a lot less. It stands to reason they might do the same for a highly anticipated cinematic event.

Part of the reason for this increased openness perhaps is a shift in how we watch everything. The belief has long been that one of the reasons people go to the movie theater (or a sports bar) is for the communal experience. That remains true. When it comes to entertainment, people like a sense of community.

But the nature of a communal experience has changed. The idea that it only happens when hundreds of people gather in one place isn’t so true anymore. As those tuning in to the fight from home could tell you, between tweeting and texting and otherwise connecting with other fans, there was still plenty of community, but they just didn’t have to get off their chair to access it.

Technology keeps pushing things further: bigger TV screens allow for ever-more people to gather in the same room, as fight fans learned, while new VR apps not far down the pike offer the possibility of multi-user viewing in a networked and theater-like environment, so much so that you can feel like you’re sitting in a movie theater next to your friend even if the two of you are hundreds of miles apart.

There are still plenty of speed bumps on the path to tent poles on demand. How much flexibility do you give a customer in watching the movie — are repeat viewings or time shifting allowed? How do you stop bars or just enterprising people in the neighborhood from showing your film and cutting into profits? How would revenue splits be worked out with cable operators?

The biggest hurdle of all, the one HBO and Showtime never had to deal with: the theaters. What should be their role in all this? After all, they are still the studios’ most important partner and would remain so on all the other movies that aren’t being made available this way. And theaters are, understandably, not dropping their resistance to any kind of simultaneous blockbuster release any time soon.

But none of these contradict the fundamental point. There is incentive for studios to make available big-event programming in homes, and an appetite from consumers to shell out for it. On Saturday night, many people did that instead of going to “Avengers.” It may not be that long before they can do both.

Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.