As Hollywood continues to face stagnant domestic box office numbers and flagging DVD sales, plans are afoot to find new ways to milk more revenue out of feature films. The latest bad idea -- which has been in the works for awhile -- would have satellite provider DirecTV offer new-release movies through their Video on Demand service within 60 days of their theatrical debut and a month ahead of their DVD release. The catch? The rental would cost consumers $30.
The move would chop as much as 30 days off the current theatrical-to-home-release window -- something that has theater owners up in arms. Amy Miles, the chief executive of Regal Entertainment, tells the L.A. Times that "If a film has a four-to-six-week window to a home, we're not going to give it screen time." She goes on to add the time frame is well outside any of the ones that have been discussed with the various theater chains. AMC's Gerry Lopez is also onboard, essentially promising that the company will refuse to screen any film released under such a plan. It would appear as though an entertainment war is on the horizon.
For its part, DirecTV is planning to roll out a trial of the program this summer. Sony, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox are already set to participate, while Disney is considering it. Paramount and Universal are taking a more wait-and-see approach and will not take part in the first wave of the program.
Plans to bring premium content to VoD at higher than average prices have been brewing for quite some time. Comcast and other cable outlets are also working on negotiating deals similar to the one DirecTV has, but they're not as far along in the process.
While theater owners are adamantly opposed to the plans, some Hollywood execs are viewing this as untapped potential revenue and as a way to combat piracy. That second part seems at least somewhat misguided. People who pirate films aren't interested in paying $30 for something they can get for free, regardless of the ethical issues involved. Meanwhile, will cash-strapped families suffering through a bad economy and gas prices that are nearing $4 a gallon be able to justify spending $30 for the privilege of seeing a film in their own home a month ahead of when it would be on standard PPV and DVD?
$30 is the equivalent of three full-priced adult tickets in most markets. It's more than the average cost of a DVD at a place like Wal-Mart. Studio executives are mulling over options to make the price more attractive, possibly including a DVD in the price when it's released at retail – or maybe charging you for that too.
Releasing films early through On Demand and the Internet is a good idea, generally speaking. As home theater set-ups have advanced in terms of technology, the full-scale theater viewing experience doesn't have quite the impact it once did. However, if Hollywood really wants to monetize this potential revenue stream, they'd be advised to do it in a more affordable way. The assumption that this will deter piracy is completely asinine. It might at a lower buy-in price, but not at $30 for what essentially amounts to a rental.
Would you be willing to pay $30 to see a movie in your home a month before it hits DVD and PPV? If not, what's the magical dollar amount that would make you take the plunge?