We've heard these predictions of doom and gloom before. They come up about once every 20 years.
The part that Spielberg and Lucas are absolutely right about is that there is a growing divide between super-expensive 200 million dollar popcorn movies and shoestring budgeted indie movies that struggle to get showings at film festivals. More and more the middle-range movies are disappearing. I believe that this will not turn into the scenario they're imagining - but we will see the studios pull back on the expensive releases after more of them tank. Which will just bring us back down to a more manageable budgetary level, which they should have been holding to in the first place.
The idea of having a movie sit in theaters for over a year, taking all the major screens and charging a premium like a Broadway play is ludicrous on its face. In the first place, Broadway pricing and longevity has to do with a limited supply of a live event. With a Broadway show, you get one performance a night and a couple of matinees a week. It can only happen in the one Broadway theater so if you want to see it, you have to go there. If the show is a hit, they can keep it on the boards for years. With a feature film, you can have it on over 3000 screens at the same time over a single weekend. They can run the movie anywhere from 5-6 times a day, every day, on every screen. And the usual pattern now is that the movie comes out, gets big exposure for the first month or so, and then slowly drops back down over the next month or two until it's out of the theaters entirely. And within weeks after that, the Blu-ray or the DVD is out and you can watch the movie, plus goodies, on your home theater.
The distribution method these guys are thinking about is over 30 years old, and it's not what people are doing now anyway. The old way was that a really popular movie could be re-released into theaters and get another month or two on screens. This happened many times in my childhood, when you could go to re-issues of "Star Wars" and "Jaws" in the summer or fall. Because we didn't have home video copies available, and because home video wasn't a big business. Way back in the day, the only way you could see a movie was in the movie theaters, and then, yes, you could have a movie stick around for a long time, usually on second-run or third-run screens. With the advent of television, you started to see movies popping up on TV, but always interrupted by commercials, and pan&scanned to death once the movies went widescreen. With the advent of cable TV and pay channels, you began to see outlets where you could see a popular movie on HBO or the Z Channel about a year after its release. And you'd probably see a VHS rental copy of that movie a little before the premium channel airing. In this environment, you could still do re-releases of special movies, but the rest would just go to TV. In our current environment, it's very difficult to imagine any theater owner holding a screen for a year-old movie. The public wants new movies and new shiny objects.
The idea that the movie theaters would jack up their prices by over ten bucks per movie and try to get away with that over a year's time on a single movie is flat-out silly. As it is, it will cost a family of four upwards of 100 bucks to go to a new movie, when you include tickets (say about 50 bucks for two parents and two kids), parking (say about 10 bucks), and concessions (say about 40 bucks for popcorn, sodas, candy and what have you for four people). I have a friend who spent close to 160 bucks taking his wife, their two nephews and two friends of the nephews to Hop a couple of years ago. He told me he was strongly thinking of never doing that again, considering he has a big screen HDTV in his living room and can entertain everyone there for a fraction of the cost.
This notion about George Lucas struggling to make Red Tails is also misleading. George Lucas talked about making this movie for decades. He dawdled over the whole thing so long that HBO actually DID make a movie about the same subject - "The Tuskegee Airmen", and it was better than what Lucas did for a much higher budget fifteen years later. Red Tails wasn't a problem to make because it wasn't a blockbuster. It was a problem because the script wasn't very good and nobody had confidence that it would make for any better of a presentation than what HBO had already done. As for Lincoln, the very notion that this would be an HBO production with Daniel Day Lewis playing the title role and Spielberg at the helm is laughable. Now, if we were talking about Spielberg producing a miniseries about Lincoln, say with Bryan Cranston in the lead role and a lesser name directing it, THEN you'd be looking at HBO for sure.