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This isn't going to end well.
Sony (NYSE: SNE ) is telling multiplex owners that the studio no longer plans to pay for the RealD (NYSE: RLD ) specs distributed with purchases of tickets for its 3-D movies, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Come May of next year, it will be exhibitors -- or moviegoers -- that are on the hook for what amounts to roughly $5 million to $10 million for major releases. It's not a coincidence that Sony is timing this ahead of the blockbuster summer season where it has Men in Black III and The Amazing Spider-Man reboot on the way.
The studios favor an ownership model, similar to what airlines do with the headphones that they used to give away. Passengers are encouraged to bring their own headsets, or pay a buck or two for a cheap one that they are encouraged to keep.
This will never work with consumers. Are folks really expected to pack a pair of 3-D glasses the next time they go on a date? How about the popcorn crunchers that were planning to see a 2-D screening that's sold out? Are they expected to pay a premium for a 3-D screening and buy glasses because they left their pair at home?
Studios will try to get theater owners to play along, approaching the specs as a profit center. They can sell a $0.50 pair of 3-D glasses for a buck or two and pocket the difference! Unfortunately, consumers are already feeling gouged in having to pay $3 to $4 more for a ticket to a 3-D or IMAX (NYSE: IMAX ) feature. Charging for glasses will come off as greedy, and it will get confusing.
The industry can't afford to alienate audiences. Box office receipts are already down in 2011. With Sony's help, 2012 won't be any better.