Movie Studios Considering Tightening Release Windows When They Should Be Eliminating Them

from the closer dept

The very idea of major movie studios simultaneously complaining about movie piracy during the initial release of a film and instituting long release windows so that films are only in the theater for legitimate viewing has never made a bit of sense. As study after study has shown, one great way to reduce piracy for a film is to make it available for home viewing as early as possible. The reason for this should be obvious: in this case, piracy of a film is a sort of market study, one which informs the studios that a part of the public really wants to watch the movie at home as opposed to in the theater. Trying to force that part of the market into the theater by delaying home rentals or purchases no longer works, because piracy is an option. Stamping out piracy has never worked, but making the film product available the way the customer wants would, at least to decent percentages.

And it seems this decades long lesson may finally be finding purchase by its students in the film studios, as several major studios are reportedly considering slashing release windows by a third.

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.

Getting the theaters on board will indeed face headwinds and it's important to note that these plans are reportedly very early on in the negotiating process. Still, this only makes sense. The job of moviemakers is to give the public movies the way they want them. The job of theaters is to create an experience that makes people want to go to the theater. It can't only be the movie itself. The movie is the studio's job. It has to be the theater attracting viewers. If it isn't, that's on the theater companies, not the studios.

Still, it's frustrating that even these baby steps are facing so much pushback, because what the studios should actually do is much more severe than a 33% cut in the windows. There's a joke in atheist circles that goes like this: first there was polytheism, then there was monotheism, and they're getting closer to the right number all the time. This joke ports nicely to the case of release windows, where the best number available is zero windows at all. With that kind of innovation being too much to hope for from entrenched industries, let's at least hope that some of the more forward-thinking studios can convince the one studio that you already know is against this whole idea.

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.

In which case I would kindly ask Disney to stop bitching about piracy. The other studios are at least trying something new instead of pushing the same doomsday talking points.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 1:27pm

    At $30 to $50 a pop, that'll bring down piracy toot suite, lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jason, 27 Mar 2017 @ 1:33pm

    As someone who likes going to the theater (not for every movie, of course) I hope they also realize it doesn't have to be an either/or situation. I'd be afraid of them trying to "solve" the problem by putting a movie in theaters for only a week or two and then pulling it to distribute for home viewing. Sure, there will be some overlap in the potential audience for both methods (some people who may have gone to the theater will just watch it at home instead) but that's no different than the way it is right now. There's no reason the two can't coexist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 28 Mar 2017 @ 1:11am

      Re:

      I'd actually argue that this is part of what's led to their current problems. In previous eras, films grew their audience. They would release at a certain number of locations, then expand as word of mouth increased demand. This could happen quickly, or a matter of months.

      Now, everything's about the opening weekend. They select the date before the script's finished, market it before the effects are finished, and if it underperforms on the first day it's already being removed from the next week's schedule before Sunday's screenings are over.

      So, don't get to see the movie on opening weekend? If it wasn't an instant success and you don't live in a major city, you might have no option to watch the film legally until it's released on DVD, which might be months. Not everyone can/will revolve their schedules around movie release windows, so I think that this combination of all-or-nothing openings, quick turnaround and long gaps between formats is what's caused a lot of their problems.

      Reducing that gap will help, as will offering an interim solution, but this plan won't be enough on its own if they don't recognise the other factors.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 1:35pm

    One step forward, one step back

    ... 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.

    I can't help but think that even in trying to decrease the delay between theaters and home viewing they're shooting themselves in the foot by pricing it so incredibly high. You can buy a new release for $20, so getting people to pay $30 or $50 is going to be a hard sell, especially considering how many restrictions they're likely to try and slap on the rental in 'anti-infringement' features.

    I can understand why they might be thinking of pricing it that high, a few people going to the theater can easily reach that sort of cost so why shouldn't it be the same for home viewing, but availability is only part of the equation when trying to convince people to buy, you also have to consider ease of access and price. Price it too high and the other two factors decrease in importance as most people consider it just too expensive for what they're getting, undercutting the entire purpose behind shrinking release windows.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris ODonnell (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 1:46pm

    #FakeProgress

    There is no way they have any research that says consumers will pay $30 to $50 to rent a movie at home. This is #FakeProgress, designed to fail so the industry can claim there is no market for early release windows for home viewing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sehlat (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 1:53pm

      Re: #FakeProgress

      It's either that or they're trying (and going to fail miserably) to appease two groups: theaters (who actually make very little money from movies, given what the studios take out for the [sneer]privilege[/sneer] of showing them, and the growing number of people who don't bother with going to the theater.

      It's possible that they're figuring the price on the basis of how much the average theater takes in from BOTH tickets AND drinks/snacks, and setting it this way so that the theaters don't panic about "lost audiences." In their eyes, that's all they have to do.

      OTOH, it'll still be cheaper to pirate the film and make your own popcorn.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jinxed (profile), 28 Mar 2017 @ 8:00am

      Re: #FakeProgress

      "There is no way they have any research that says consumers will pay $30 to $50 to rent a movie at home."
      This is the same industry which also believed consumer would shell out $100+ for a movie when they launched on VHS, nearly 12 years after the Betamax loss.

      When they realize customers aren't going to pay this atrocious amount (falsely believing everyone still groups on the family couch to watch shows), they'll either whine to Congress we didn't "want" it or they'll reduce the price.

      Money does stupid things to people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 1:51pm

    Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

    You pirates keep hoping for this so won't have to wait out the release window before can get content free. In your couch groove at home.

    That's your ONLY reason for this re-write from last week. No other is even implied here, no suggestion that it'd (somehow, magically, despite the ensuing piracy) optimize studio income, just the shameless hope that creators will be forced to or foolish enough to shorten your wait -- to zero days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 2:11pm

      Re: Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

      Imagine a world where a film only needs a single marketing run to cover every possible release — theatrical, DVD/Blu-ray, digital video. Imagine how much money that would save studios in the long run. That is a benefit of a non-existent release window.

      Imagine a world where a film could be released in theatres and on home video (physical and digital) at the same time. Rather than limiting consumer choice to either “theatres” or “piracy”, consumers would have the extra option of “licensing” the home video release and watching it on their own terms. That is a benefit of a non-existent release window.

      Imagine a world where a simultaneous cross-platform release could negate or drive down piracy. As this site has said before, legal and convenient (as well as fairly priced) is the easiest way to push people away from piracy and toward legal options. That is a benefit of a non-existent release window.

      Maybe there will be more piracy of a film if it received a digital release at the same time as the theatrical. Then again, if the studios think people will pay thirty fucking dollars for a mere “license” to a film — a license that could be revoked at any time or made worthless by a downed DRM server — piracy will remain an “unfixable” problem for the studios.

      There are more benefits to a non-existent release window than there are drawbacks. Some of those benefits are even on the “supply side” of the chain. Society is changing, and so is how society experiences films and television shows (can we even call them “television shows” if they are on Netflix?). Theatres will still have a place in society, but making them the first and only option for consumers to view new movies is not going to help theatres (and movie studio profits) survive. And it will damn sure not marginalise the issue of piracy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 9:51pm

        Re: Re: Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

        (can we even call them “television shows” if they are on Netflix?)

        I think they're called "serialised video content" now.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 28 Mar 2017 @ 3:37am

          Re: Re: Re: Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

          Well, “serial” works, but “video content” is far too clunky. There has to be a better term.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2017 @ 7:41am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

            Cereal stream

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 2:26pm

      Re: Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

      Have you not noticed that these days the digital copies can leak from the studios before the official premiere, so that the pirate get to see it first..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 3:08pm

      Re: Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

      You do realise actual real pirates give fuck all about release windows right?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 28 Mar 2017 @ 1:35am

        Re: Re: Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

        Of course not, they're already watching the movies that paying home customers are being forced to wait for.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 28 Mar 2017 @ 1:34am

      Re: Same old wish entirely ignoring that so soon as one digital version is out it's totally pirated.

      "just the shameless hope that creators will be forced to or foolish enough to shorten your wait -- to zero days."

      Yeah, i'd love to be able to pay to watch at home on the day of release, I'd watch more than I do now because of the expense and hassle of getting to a cinema.

      Now, if you could only stop lying about the pirates wanting it for free on that day (which they already do - sometimes BEFORE release), then we'd be on to something. Unfortunately, you have to lie to shill for an industry that's causing it's own problems.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 1:55pm

    you cant put common sense where there's no room!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 1:57pm

    How much piracy is driven by the long time difference between releases in different parts of the world? Given that people these days often have friends with similar interests and tastes spread round the world, he way to avoid spoilers is to watch the same films within a day or so of each other.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 2:00pm

    @"piracy of a film is a sort of market study" -- of non-paying couch potatoes.

    It's a huge and always growing but non-sustainable market.

    You actually believe that the studios are just being stupid besides mean to you, that no one in charge has ever looked at it your enlightened way. Sheesh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 3:10pm

      Re: @"piracy of a film is a sort of market study" -- of non-paying couch potatoes.

      No, just being stupid. With people like you in charge it's the only possible explanation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 6:00pm

      Re: @"piracy of a film is a sort of market study" -- of non-paying couch potatoes.

      out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 2:16pm

    $50 price? That seem unrealistic

    At $10, perhaps even $20, I would consider streaming a new release at home.

    A $50 price range is much different. I would only consider it if I invited a huge group of friends over to view as well. And it would have to be an excellent movie. At $50 I'm not willing to take a risk.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 2:22pm

      Re: $50 price? That seem unrealistic

      This is how a lot of MMA, boxing, and pro wrestling fans viewed PPV costs at the height of that system’s popularity: Throw a party of sorts, split the costs between everyone there, and watch the show. Ten friends paying five dollars each is a far better idea than one person paying the full fifty.

      To a movie studio, that would be anathema. “How dare these people only pay part-price for the right to watch our movies!” they might yell in a boardroom. There would be all kinds of restrictions and issues pushed onto these “licensed rentals” to make them not worth the cost.

      And that does not even get into the subjective nature of whether a film (or a PPV) might be “good” or “bad” and the risks involved with paying for something you might later regret having paid for.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        hiroshimarrow (profile), 28 Mar 2017 @ 8:18am

        Re: Re: $50 price? That seem unrealistic

        Microsoft has you covered. They can count the number of users, and adjust pricing accordingly. 50 bucks for just the initial screening of say, up to 4 people, then up the price for each additional person?

        https://phys.org/news/2012-11-microsoft-patent-technology-users-streamed.html

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John85851 (profile), 28 Mar 2017 @ 10:52am

        Re: Re: $50 price? That seem unrealistic

        _“How dare these people only pay part-price for the right to watch our movies!” they might yell in a boardroom._
        Until, of course, they put the DVD on sale at Wal-Mart for $9.99. Then an entire family can watch the movie for less than the price of 1 person seeing it in the theater.
        Then again, the studio probably figures that they've made all their money from the movie and DVD sales are a bonus.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SirWired (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 2:45pm

    It comes from the dual-customer nature of movies

    Any given movie has TWO customers; theaters and movie-goers. Completely alienating one group of those customers (movie theaters) to the advantage of another (movie-goers) would probably not end well for anybody involved.

    It's all well and good for this website to propose studios go to 0-day and tell theaters "Getting asses in your seats vs. their living room is your problem now", but in the real world, a theater is not going to take that lying down, and will, naturally, prefer to show and market releases by studios that have more favorable terms.

    It may be hard for the editors of this website to believe, but studios have more on their minds than just piracy. (Although given that most new-release piracy consists of blurry copies of somebody pointing a camera at the screen, I agree that it's not really much of a threat.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 3:05pm

      Re: It comes from the dual-customer nature of movies

      "Getting asses in your seats vs. their living room is your problem now"

      But that has always been a theatre’s problem. The whole draw of a theatre is not to watch a movie, but to watch a movie in a social setting. If a theatre cannot convince people to do that, it is not the fault of piracy — it is the fault of that theatre for not finding a way to make the theatre-going experience worth a consumer’s time and money.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2017 @ 3:52am

        Who said anyhthing about piracy?

        I didn't say anything about piracy, other than to agree it wasn't much of a threat, and to point out that studios do more than obsess about it all the time; a point TechDirt has trouble understanding.

        This is all about theaters giving preferential treatment to studios that offer them better terms. Which is certainly their right, and would be a big problem for studios going 0-day. (Tent-pole blockbuster franchises would be okay, but the lion's share of movies are NOT blockbusters, and very much need the support of theaters to be profitable. We certainly don't need Hollywood becoming even MORE reliant on cookie-cutter sure-thing franchise movies.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2017 @ 7:46am

          Re: Who said anyhthing about piracy?

          We certainly don't need Hollywood becoming even MORE reliant on cookie-cutter sure-thing franchise movies.)

          Who cares what Hollywood does, now that a film producer has other ways of getting a film into the eyes and ears of an audience. Behaving like Luddites and resisting changes to how the markets work is a way of going broke slowly or quickly depending aon how fast you are made irrelevant.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 3:04pm

    $30 (or $50) for a VOD that you don't add to your library.
    It will be limited in so many wonderful ways because piracy.
    They will then look confused when people aren't using the service in droves, completely missing the point that customers are tired of being treated worse than pirates.

    Nice idea... its gonna bomb because they are still much to obsessed with control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2017 @ 1:50am

    "They will then look confused when people aren't using the service in droves, completely missing the point that customers are tired of being treated worse than pirates.
    "

    They know the outcome already, master plan and all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2017 @ 6:59am

    staggered regional releases

    As someone in the UK I find delayed releases in different regions especially ludicrous, each year when the Oscars come round us UK folk look at the list of films and it's usually the case that quite a few of the "leading films" have not (at that point in time) been released in UK. So the Oscars often act as an advert & nothing much else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jenny O'Wraith, 28 Mar 2017 @ 8:52am

    $30, $50, $70... GO!

    Pirate GO, of course. What insane mind may come up with such an insane price tag for meagre 90-120 minutes of some mild entertainment? Do they really believe common folks are going to spend their day's entire wage (think of the $7.50 - $12.50 an hour labourers) for up to 120 minutes of something chewing through their skinny bundle of metered data like a tornado in a gas tank?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 28 Mar 2017 @ 9:02am

    I long ago stopped paying attention to when movies get released in theatres. I only pay attention to what gets released on disc or on Netflix.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 29 Mar 2017 @ 3:25am

    Disney screwing up culture. Nothing new under the sun.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2017 @ 10:39pm

    $1 for each day. lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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