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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I love movies and I love the old time experience of going to a theater built in the 1940’s and just taking in the atmosphere. I also love occasionally going to the drive-in movies. About four years ago, I started hearing rumors that the major movie studios (primarily Disney and Sony) were telling movie theater owners that they needed to convert to digital projectors by 2014 or else they would no longer be able to show movies.

I thought that sounded a bit absurd, especially after I looked at the costs for upgrading to digital. Even at its lowest, digital projection cost movie theaters around $90,000 per projector. Sure the quality of the sound and picture was better and you could do cool things like show Bills’ games on all of your screens because of video projection, but what about the little guys who could not afford it?

It did not take long for Sony and a few other studios to offer grants to theaters to upgrade to digital. But the ratio of grants to theaters that needed them was way off. One by one, the small theaters that had been the focal points of communities had to close because of digital.

Why would the movie industry do that? I get it that it is cheaper to send out a hard drive than it is to send out piles of film cans, but why not use both? Even if you cut down the amount of film cans available to just 20 percent of what it used to be, that would mean that some of these theaters could stay open and people could enjoy the tradition of seeing a movie in a real movie house and the studios would still save a ton of money.

I got news for anyone born after 1985, the IMAX is not a real movie house. The AMC Theaters are not real movie houses. Sure, it is great to go see a movie in the AMC theaters with the comfy chairs and great sound, but going to movies is as much about the experience as it is the movie itself. A real movie house, like the Palace, has that wide-open feel to it and creates an atmosphere that these cookie-cutter theater chains could never create. And now the movie studios sought to kill those theaters to maximize profits.

Were there any protests? Was there any outrage? No, the public just allowed old movie theaters in small communities to die off and take away the only outlet that many small communities had to see first-run movies. Some drive-ins, like the Transit and the Sunset, flourish with digital projection and it is awesome to see. But it was a bit disturbing to see all of these fundraisers for theaters that had been around since before the golden age of movies just so they could buy a digital projector to stay in business.

But karma has a way of striking back and I am very happy to announce that Sony got hacked and five of its new releases made it to the Internet a little early. The two big titles that were hacked were “Fury” and “Annie.” In all, over two million people have already seen these holiday blockbusters and the whole story made me laugh out loud (I believe the kids call that LOL these days).

One of the two driving forces in pushing digital conversion on theaters around the world has now been compromised to the tune of almost $1 billion in production investments. Hey, do you know how many times movies were released to the public early when the studios used film? Zero. Sure, sometimes people would pirate movies when they were released overseas before being released here, but no one ever saw the movie before its first official release date.

Take that Sony. Please understand that I do not condone theft of any kind. I honestly don’t. But this is karma. This is payback for all of the jobs Sony cost theater employees and owners. This is the return on investment for destroying the lifelong dreams of families who owned movie theaters for generations and had to shut down because of Sony’s greed. This is what Sony gets for thinking that it can push people around and get away with it.

The Internet is not secure and the idea that movies could sit on an Internet server and be protected from hackers was extremely short-sighted. Now Sony pays the price. I hope Disney is next. I hope that Disney suffers the same financial devastation that the owner of some small drive-in in the Midwest suffered when they were forced to close the family business after 50 years because movie studios don’t understand what compromise is.

There were options, movie studios. But you chose to destroy the foundation of the theater business that made you rich. How does karma feel? I bet it is painful.

Nick Oliver is a Niagara County resident and he hates it when big corporations destroy small businesses for financial gain. His column appears every Wednesday and he sincerely hopes that Sony reads this one.

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