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How Much Will You Pay For A Movie On-Demand?


As COVID-19 continues to upend the world, the decisions that are being made in media are now clearly setting up a new template that will not be easy to shake when things get back to (almost) normal. 


One major decision is going to be what to do about on-demand films, and how much to charge for them. The recent decision by Universal to push three theatrical releases to on-demand was met with both excitement and skepticism. The three films all had potential to touch different audiences and were all at different levels of release: The Invisible Man was a massive hit at the box office and the shift to on-demand was to try and keep a little of that momentum going; The Hunt had already been pushed back from one release date due to its controversial premise; and Emma was another romantic comedy adaptation of the Jane Austen novel that simply had its release date spoiled by the coronavirus.


This inspired others, too: Onward, Pixar’s new film which was on its way to sweeping up all the money at the box office (as those films tend to do), was also given this treatment because its opening was during theater closures. 


And other films, like Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot, which probably wasn’t going to do well in theaters anyway, are also now on VOD. 


And all of these will run you $19.99


So what happened? Depending on whom you speak with, it was either a great idea or just the best way to deal with a bad situation. 


Invisible Man and Onward are topping the charts, but the other films have not picked up as much steam as would have been expected. And even the most popular films do not seem to be raking in the kind of dough to make this straight-to-living-room model something that studios will begin to flock to. 


But why? It could be the price. 


A recent survey showed that 20 bucks is a lot for one movie, even a new blockbuster, when streaming service provide a vast array of films for less every month. Disney may be charging $19.99 for Onward today, but on Friday you can see it on Disney+, and that monthly subscription is $13 bucks less. 


So does that mean it’s back to theaters for everything when we finally get to leave our houses again? Instead it may take some ingenuity, like using AI, to determine what kind of price point will have people smashing those rental buttons.


This requires some deep audience analysis to determine what kind of people are watching what kinds of movies and the value they put on them. 


Let’s take Emma for example. It would be pretty accurate to say that the film is geared towards a younger, female demographic, and that audience is likely different than those people who were most excited to see The Hunt. And neither of those groups are going to be parents who are looking for ways to enjoy a film with their children. 


Each of the demos are going to want to watch the films differently, with different people next to them, and assume a different level of value. According to that same study above, the average person thinks that a movie should cost about six bucks, or the price of a medium popcorn at some theaters. But that didn’t keep people from renting The Invisible Man.


Because it’s not an issue of whether or not it works, but how to make it work better. 


Rental price points vary for a lot of films nowadays, and on-demand needs to catch up. But it needs to do it smartly and objectively. The coronavirus has shown that the traditional methods in media can look antiquated in the span of a weekend; it’s time to go back listen to what the audience wants.

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