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Cable Companies Pitching VOD Rentals 30-Days After Theatrical Release

There are a lot of crazy ideas that get floated around Hollywood, but this one about movies being rented on demand while they are still in the theater is getting nuttier by the minute.

Back on May 10th we reported how the FCC had cleared the way for movies to be rented on TVs shortly after they hit theaters, and would allow the studios to disable television outputs so there would be no way to record them.  Well, cable companies such as Time Warner wasted no time in pitching the studios on a full concept.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Time Warner has made proposals to Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Studios, General Electric Co.’s Universal Pictures, Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures, Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures and News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox.  The idea is that a month after a movie hits the theater, it would be available as a video on demand (VoD) rental via your cable provider for between $20 and $30.  Some see this as a boon to consumers due to increasing theater ticket prices as of late, but what it would do to the theaters themselves could be devastating if this ever caught on.

cinemaMovie theaters have already been in a fight as of late to save themselves, and earlier this year got upset with Disney when the company said it would release Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on DVD and Blu-ray 12 weeks after it went to theaters as opposed to the usual 16 week delay.  Disney may be wanting to reconsider this idea on the news that on May 27th, a mere five days before the DVD release, the film had crossed the th3 $1 billion dollar intentional gross level, making it only the sixth film to do so in history.

Considering that Alice in Wonderland released on March 5th, that means on April 4th people could have started renting at home under this new system.  Now say a family of four rents the film, even at $30, in a large number of big cities, the studio would come out behind on the take.  The theaters themselves would lose out on their small percentage of the ticket sales, and they would lose out on their over-priced concession sales.  The only potential winner in this equation, as I see it, is the consumer, which makes me wonder what part of this whole thing we’re missing because we know large companies never do anything that benefits us and gains them nothing.

As for the shortening of the DVD release window, Disney may come to regret that decision as Alice in Wonderland is still making money in the theaters, would another four week delay have really killed any potential sales to the home video market?

For some reason it seems everyone is determined to cut the theaters out of the movie business equation.  Some have used the concept that either of these moves would cut down on piracy, but does anyone really think this will impact BitTorrent trading?  It won’t stop one single download, and anyone who says it actually will is either lacking intelligence or using it as a lie to cover up some other reason they favor these new moves.

The theater experience is imperfect to say the least, but it has served the movie studios and consumers for decades now.  There is still something to be said for seeing some movies in a theater, and seeing as I live in a town where a matinée is only $5.75, you would never catch me paying $30 to watch it on demand in my family room.

Hollywood regularly falls in love with new technologies, embraces them and then finally go, “Does the consumer even want this?”  Anyone remember video discs, the predecessor to laser discs?  If you thought laser discs were a flop, boy howdy would you get a chuckle out of the video discs.

All I’m trying to say is, if it isn’t broke, don’t “fix it”, and that is exactly what is being discussed right now by the cable companies and the studios.  Theater release followed by home video and on demand releases have worked for ages now, why change the symmetry of it all?  Change the physical/digital formats all you want, but there is no need for a change to the release schedules.


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Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...