Aside from the thorny issue of price, content availability is often cited as one of the major drivers of Internet piracy. If consumers can access content easily without being made to wait, it’s believed that significant numbers will choose legal options.
With its global Friday release strategy and largely instantaneous availability on streaming platforms, the music industry has taken massive strides in dealing with this gaping hole in supply and demand. But for the movie industry, with its complex structure and multi-platform delivery system, things are not so straightforward.
Giving customers access to new movies on multiple formats on the day they’re released might seem to be the logical move to combat piracy, but Hollywood is fiercely protective of its windowing system since it offers multiple opportunities to sell and re-sell the same content to the same people.
Now, however, there are signs that the studios could be softening their stance towards consumers being able to rent new movies in the home shortly after their theatrical release.
According to a Variety report, six of the seven biggest Hollywood studios are considering plans to allow new movies to be delivered via VOD into the living room between 30 and 45 days after launch for around $30.
Fox and Warner are said to favor this structure but other plans are also floating around. Universal are reported to be pushing for a VOD release less than three weeks after launch, with Warner Bros. suggesting a shorter 17-day delay but with a larger $50 rental price.
Of course, any move to bring content to the home more quickly could have a profound effect on the many theater chains around the United States and present a serious stumbling block in negotiations. However, a proposal from Warner would see exhibitors receiving a cut of VOD revenues, if they agree to a narrowing of the theatrical release window.
While the rest of the major studios are keen to move forward, Disney is reported to be against the proposal. For a company that came up with the artificial restrictions embodied in the Disney Vault, for example, that probably won’t come as too much of a surprise.
But for those hoping for a smooth transition to quick releases in the home, breath holding is not advised, at least for now. Variety reports that negotiations have been underway for more than a year already and due to a number of considerations, they are pretty complex.
While Universal wants to go early across the board, others are considering longer or shorter release windows depending on the number of screens a movie is still showing on. In other words, the sooner people get bored of the theatrical release, the quicker it might appear in homes. That probably doesn’t bode well for fans of the more successful movies that enjoy longer theatrical runs and are more prone to piracy.
But while innovation is being sought, it’s also worth noting that exhibitors are seeking to reel it back in other areas. Lower priced movie rentals can currently appear 90 days after release and exhibitors are reported as seeking assurances that this will remain the case for up to 10 more years.
The news that the studios are considering their own model for early distribution will come as a blow to Napster founder Sean Parker. A year ago this month, news broke that the disrupter had a plan to bring first-run movies to the home on the same day they’re released in theaters.
While that may have been a little optimistic, Parker’s overall framework sounds very much like the plan Warner is now in favor of – a $50 rental price tag with a $20 cut going to exhibitors. Also included in Parker’s price would have been two free movie tickets, something that doesn’t appear to be on the table now.
Also in doubt is whether the currently proposed two to four-week window will be long enough to quash fears that early VOD delivery would contribute heavily to online piracy.
Last year, Art House Convergence, a cinema organization representing 600 theaters and allied cinema exhibition businesses, said that Parker’s day-and-date model would encourage the “wildfire spread of pirated content” and herald a “decline in overall film profitability through the cannibalization of theatrical revenue.”
It’s safe to say that nobody in the movie business wants that. Stay tuned.