One of the business challenges that has held back the direct-to-consumer streaming of ticketed events — whether live concerts, Broadway shows, or first-run movies — has been the lack of an effective ticketing mechanism for over-the-top video. As there was no way to know how many people might be gathered around a particular screen rights owners and event producers had little choice but to charge an arbitrary price for the stream, usually high enough to account for the possibility of multiple viewers but at the cost of turning off people viewing alone or perhaps with only one other person.
Sean Parker’s Screening Room, for instance, plans to charge a flat $50 per movie for in-home access to first-run films, which research shows could limit the market for the service.
The inability to know how many people are in the room also makes it difficult for providers to sell advertising or sponsorship in the stream because they cannot offer advertisers an accurate count of how many people were exposed to their messages.
In-home ticketing may be poised to have its moment, however, due to some recent technological advances.
One is ability to stream in virtual reality. Live Nation announced this week that it is teaming with NextVR to stream hundreds of live concerts in virtual reality over the next five years. NextVR helped pioneer live VR streaming, back when it was known as Next3D, and claims it can deliver a 6K video stream at 80 frames per second to a VR headset.
Since it’s pretty difficult for two people to share a single VR headset at the same time, Live Nation and NextVR will likely have to send discrete streams to individual headsets. For the first time, it would be possible to sell individual streams and to get an accurate count of how many people viewed the event.
VR streaming may not be practical for every type of event, and not all viewers will want to watch in VR. But it opens the possibility for segmented pricing models, where one segment of the audience is paying per-head and generating valuable marketing data, while another is paying a group rate.
Another technology, from Rockville, Md.-based start up Xcinex, uses a set-top box equipped with visual sensors that can detect how many people are in a room. Like Screening Room, Xcinex has been pitching its technology to the major studios for in-home viewing of movies. But unlike Screening Room, Xcinex plans to enable the studios to sell individual tickets for in-home access.
Xcinex relies on a free app that gets downloaded directly to smart TVs, rather than to streaming adapters like Roku boxes or Apple TV. When the app is activated to watch an event it disables other functionalities of the TV, such as video outputs, so the stream cannot be copied. The Xcinex box then scans the room to determine the number of people present. If the number of people does not match the number of tickets sold for that particular stream the stream is paused until the numbers match.
The box scans the room periodically throughout the event. With each scan the box disconnects from the internet so it can’t be hacked. Once the box analyzes the most recent scan it reconnects and communicates with Xcinex servers and the images captured in the scan are erased from the box.
The technology is similar to gesture-controlled game consoles, where the cameras are able to detect individual players.
While Xcinex is initially targeting the studios, as well as international distributors looking for a way to reach U.S. audiences where they can’t get theatrical distribution, CEO Cihan Atkin tells Concurrent Media he sees an equally large market in live events.
The Xcinex platform has the ability to geo-fence a stream to protect ticket sales to the event itself. “If it’s a concert in a certain city you may not want to offer streaming in that market so you can black it out,” Atkin said.
The system can also protect theatrical exclusivity. At checkout, consumers are required to check a box to identify the theater they would normally attend to see a movie. That theater then gets 20 percent of the ticket price. If one chain has an exclusive in a market, other exhibitors are not presented to the consumer to check.
So far, over 118,000 consumers have signed up to purchase the $130 Xcinex box when it becomes available, according to Atkin. The goal is to have an installed base of at least 250,000 at launch, which he expects to be within the next eight months.
Whether Xcinex has built enough controls into its system to persuade the studios to risk the wrath of theater owners remains to be seen. But as the technology to enable individual ticketing for in-home access develops it will open the way both for new types of content to be offered over-the-top, and new pricing and business models around content that is already being streamed.