Smart cinemas ready to clamp down on smart devices

Google Glass
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31 October 2014 | 0

It is with great pleasure that I can say the chances of meeting someone wearing Google Glass at your cinema of choice are slim. This won’t be down to the headset’s prohibitive price or style-averse design. Rather, it’s concern over piracy that has both the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners putting a halt to the Glasshole problem before it starts.

I’m in the ‘right answer, wrong reason’ camp on this. I have no doubt that someone will try and use Google Glass to record screenings and make them available online. It’s been done with smartphones and camcorders – if there’s a lens it will be used and in the same way that paper never refuses ink, the Internet doesn’t turn down free content, regardless of how it was made.

If the MPAA and theatre owners wants to hire smart device bouncers that’s their (expensive) business but the idea that poorly filmed screenings will be the end of them has about as much credence as the argument that illegal file sharing would put them on borrowed time. According to Statista, box office revenues in the US have been enjoying a steady upward trend over the past 30 years. A combination of premium viewing experiences, 3D screenings, expensive popcorn and bombastic tentpole films like the Transformers franchise has seen box office revenues grow from less than $3 billion in 1980 to a record $10.92 billion in 2013. The rise of broadband has coincided not with a decline in the fortunes of major studios but a period of unprecedented success. The ‘shrinkage’ argument only holds in the home entertainment space, where the rise of streaming services led to the closure of the Blockbuster chain in the US and in Ireland with the near collapse of the Xtra-vision chain the closure of Laser Video – whose catalogue of arthouse films was the match of any library anywhere in the world.

Where I agree with the motion picture industry’s stance on wearables is in the necessity of preserving the cinema-going experience. The glare of mobile phones is bad enough without having to put with more light sources from the wrist or head. One of my more unpleasant viewing experiences was while sat behind someone enjoying an e-cigarette – a bad situation made worse by its little blue light.

If cinemas can keep punters paying a premium for an experience of big screens, big sound and big Imax glasses, then clamping down on anything that glows, vibrates or has some kind of alarm is a essential.

Will Microsoft’s Band and Google Glass put me off my regular trip to the multiplex? It’s not going to be a problem in the short-term, but I’d like to think the industry is on notice.

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