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Theater Operators Fighting Plans By Studios to Release Movies to Homes Sooner

Posted on Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 6:15 PM

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that theater operators are fighting plans by some movie studios to release movies in homes while they are still playing in theaters:

Theater operators are mounting a challenge to plans by Hollywood studios to release movies in the home when they are still in theaters.

The nation's largest theater chains have been reaching out to investors and analysts on Wall Street, as well as directors, producers and agents, in an effort to build support for preserving so-called theatrical windows — the period of time between when a movie opens in cinemas and when it comes out on DVD or other media.

The outreach is in response to statements by media executives touting plans to offer movies in the home via video on demand at a price of $30 to $60, one to two months after they are released in theaters.

Click on the Read link below to view the entire article.

The so-called "release window" has been shrinking on an ongoing basis, as movie studios try to make as much money as possible on their movies and get the most for their marketing dollar by release them as soon as they can after the movie's theatrical release.

There was a time when it would be six to seven months after its theatrical release before a movie would be released to the home video market, but that has been reduced to an average of about four months. For example, the Michael Douglas movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 21st, which was just two months and three weeks after its September 24th release in theaters. Angelina Jolie's Salt was also released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, but it was first released in theaters almost five months ago. Both movies are still playing in some second-run and budget-priced theaters.

The Studio Plan and Why Theaters are Nervous

This current plan would have movies be available via Video on Demand within 30-60 days of their release at a premium price of around $30. To illustrate that, imagine Tron Legacy, which was just released last Friday available on your cable or satellite provider's Video on Demand service on January 22, 2011. Would that affect your willingness to go to a theater to see the movie? If so, that's exactly what the theater chains don't want to hear and why they're always fighting such moves from the studios.

The article quotes the head of AMC Entertainment:

"A 30-day window makes absolutely no sense to us whatsoever," said Gerry Lopez, chief executive of AMC Entertainment, the nation's second-largest theater operator. "We're concerned about the grave consequences this could bring."

I think they have a valid concern! 30 days is a very short window, but how many people are going to be willing to pay the premium price tag? Given the cost of going to a movie theater, it doesn't take too many people joining you to watch the movie in your home before the cost difference evens out. I just paid $9.50 to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 last night and the experience wasn't anything to brag about. If my friend and I had found one or two more people to join us, we'd be money ahead with watching it at home.

On top of the admission price, we both bought concessions, and that's where the theaters really make their money. That's the revenue they're probably most worried about losing. After all, when less than a microwave bag of popcorn and 20 ounces of soda costs $10, that adds up very quickly, and that's a lot of lost revenue if the popcorn-buying public stays home instead.

The Challenge/Opportunity for Movie Theaters

There are movie theaters that do less than they could and should for the revenue that comes from the buying public. I've been to more than a few myself, and we get comments from people to that effect as well. Mediocre presentations, disruptive patron behavior, and unkept facilities are all things that are under the direct control of the movie theater's management. When these conditions exist, it opens a window of opportunity for a competing service to come in and take those customers away.

Theaters that consistently deliver an amazing movie-going experience will not have to worry much about plans like these from the studios. There is a percentage of the population that will always be attracted by alternatives, but many people still like the idea of going to a theater and seeing the new release up on the big screen with a crowd of people. If all the pieces fall into place, there's nothing in the home environment that can beat that.

After all, restaurants that serve great pizza aren't lacking for business just because people can stay home and have Pizza Hut or Domino's deliver. I had to wait over an hour at the Gino's East in Chicago last month, but it was worth it! Likewise, musicians still pack the house even though their latest CD can be purchased for $10 or downloaded for $1 a track. It's all about the experience, and what people feel that they're getting for their money.

Even if this latest attempt by the studios isn't successful, the day is coming when it will be. The release window will continue to shrink, and it's up to theaters to rise to the challenge while they still have the benefits that their exclusive access provides.

We encourage theaters to constantly push the envelope of the movie-going experience. Deliver the best possible presentation in the best possible facility and encourage the best possible behavior from everyone that attends their theaters. While the enhanced experiences offered by the UltraScreens, ETX, RPX, XD, and others are a cut above the norm, they also come at the price of 30-40% higher ticket prices.

Theaters need to deliver a better overall experience than people can get at home at a reasonable price. If they aren't able or willing to do that, efforts like this will have a negative impact on their ability to stay in business. That's the harsh reality of a market-based economy.

Finding Theaters That Do It Right

Fortunately, there are theaters that do deliver a great experience. The challenge for the buying public is to find those theaters and spread the word when we find them. That's why we created the Reader Comments for Theaters feature back in 2009. This feature provides our readers with a way to comment on the experiences they have at theaters; both the good and the bad.

To see what comments other readers have left for the theaters you attend, just go to that theater's entry, and click on the "Reader Comments" link in the sidebar. Please feel free to leave your own comments as well, so that others can read about your experiences there.

What Do You Think About Movies Via Video on Demand Within 30-60 Days?

We'd like to hear what you think, and theaters might be interested as well. Leave your comments below!

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Reader VoiceReader Comments

Please Note: These comments are submitted by the readers of The BigScreen Cinema Guide and represent their own personal opinions, and do not represent the views of The BigScreen Cinema Guide, or any of its associated entities.

Jan 4, 2011 - BigScreen Reader  

There's always going to be a desire for people to see a movie in a theater, but maybe with something like this, more theaters will try harder for our business! 

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