I Sincerely Hope I’m Not Calling This Too Early, But Here’s the Dumbest Piece of Tech in 2020

We thought nothing could possibly be worse than shelling out increasingly more expensive premium-video-on-demand costs, as with recent releases like Trolls World Tour and Mulan. Well, how about paying per person for tickets to watch a movie from your own freaking living room?

This is evidently the concept proposed by startup Xcinex, whose Venue device would have viewers pay to access content by scanning the number of people watching and charging them a “ticketed entertainment” fee. Surely, you must be thinking, this is a scam. Reader, by all indications the streaming device is real — at least in the respect that it appears to be available for preorder for a real $US60 ($82).

In an interview with Deadline in June, the company’s founder and CEO Cihan Fuat Atkin said that while the product “doesn’t do facial recognition,” it does assure “that the number of people in the room matches the number of tickets.”

How does that work, exactly? According to Venue’s FAQ, you’ll pay for the number of people Venue detects in the room, and should the device detect “more people in the room than tickets purchased, content will pause until the ticket count equals viewer count.” (This seems like it could be both a deeply flawed and painfully annoying system to have in, for example, an open layout home.) You won’t need to pay for a monthly subscription, though you will be able to access existing streaming apps for which you pay through the Venue platform.

As for pay-per-person ticket prices, the company said those are set by content owners. Content may include everything from new releases to sporting events, according to Deadline. Ticket prices will only be good for one-time viewing, though the company says in its FAQ that you’ll be able to pause and play whenever you like. The company said it’s looking at a late 2020 ship date, though given the current state of things, I would take that claim — as with everything else about Venue, if I’m being honest — with a large grain of salt. To be fair, though, Quibi sounded like a big-arse scam, and Quibi is a company that despite all odds somehow continues to exist.

The interesting thing about Venue — despite virtually everything about it sounding fake — is that it arrives at a time when it could, in theory, pull off this spectacular grift. With the coronavirus pandemic still very much uncontained in many parts of the U.S., and with film production and release schedules being pushed back repeatedly amid shutdowns and theatre closures, it makes sense that a startup would seize on the opportunity to create — however absurd — a pay-per-head viewing model for folks who plan to remain at home indefinitely.

Already, studios have shifted major debuts to PVOD releases, as with the dumbfounding success of the at-home premiere of Trolls World Tour, which NBCUniversal charged $US20 ($27) for access to. Disney, meanwhile, will soon release the highly anticipated live-action remake of Mulan through its service Disney+, with the company charging a previously unthinkable fee of $US30 ($41) on top of the monthly or annual subscription fee that users already pay for the service.

The reality is, however, many of us will likely pony up for a new release if it means we can watch from the comfort and safety of our own homes — at least for the foreseeable future. I’m willing to admit that if Venue’s sketchy-arse person-sensing contraption gave me earlier access to New Mutants or Tenet, and perhaps other releases down the line, I’d be willing to try it. (New Mutants currently appears on Venue’s website under “Now Playing,” though again, the device is not even available yet and the site also states that “images are for placement purposes only.” It’s not actually clear that this company has secured any actual new releases.) Honestly, at this point, I’m just desperate for something to hit that new release joy button.

All of this is to say in our new cinematic Wild West of pandemic releases, virtually anything is possible — maybe even a half-baked at-home ticketing scheme.

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