If the big screen makes movie theaters, then movie theaters aren’t likely to prosper in the future. Movie theater screens could be much larger and much higher resolution than they are today. However, in-home television screens have been rapidly growing in size and picture quality. The binding constraint, with rapid technological progress and relatively high incomes, is probably subjective: subjective screen size and image resolution depends greatly on the viewer’s seating position (see full calculations for home theaters). Movie theaters, especially large ones, have considerable variance in seating positions. Only a few persons can have the best seating. That’s usually not a problem in the living room.
Movie theaters could offer a technically differentiated viewing experience with means other than larger screens and higher-resolution images. Mark Cuban recently observed:
The Dallas Mavericks did a live 3D broadcast of one of our games this past season that we broadcast to a local movie theater enabled with a 3D digital projector. It was a huge success, fans loved it, 3D glasses and all, and have asked for more. We have seen the same demand for other types of content as well.
Content produced for 3D-theater presentation probably could be transformed into a standard television stream and short, mobile-phone video clips at small incremental cost. Thus 3D video probably has feasible economics of multiple-screen production.
But the core value of movie theaters is probably not a technologically differentiated viewing experience but a communal viewing experience. Some years ago, my brother flew from Austin, Texas to Durham, North Carolina to watch with fellow Duke fans live video of a Duke basketball game happening on campus a few blocks away in a filled-to-capacity basketball arena. Unfortunately, the video venue was also filled to capacity, so he then flew to Chicago to watch live video with Duke fans there. Duke, as recent events have made clear, is a zone of insanity. But getting together to watch live video actually isn’t all that strange. In Pittsburgh, about 14,000 home-team hockey fans gathered in an arena to watch live video of their team playing in a distant city. Live events usually include a large video monitor which most attendees watch, because much more can be seen there than on the distant stage. Actually having the stage and the performers doesn’t seem all that important to the event experience.
Deploying multiple screens with different camera feeds might be an economical way to enhance live video of events. Multiple cameras typically are used to cover live events. A director cuts between camera feeds to produce the output video. If different camera feeds were presented on different screens, attendees could do this kind of editing with their own eyes. Moreover, screen positions and camera angles could be used to organize and enhance the communal experience. Sitting on a different side of a viewing venue could favor seeing a different screen showing a different team’s favored viewing angle. Communal video viewing could thus provide better real-world experience of group rivalry.