Universal wanted to give consumers in two cities (Portland and Atlanta) the opportunity to purchase forthcoming comedy pic Tower Heist, starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, via VOD just three weeks after the Nov 4 theatrical release.
The studio won’t get the chance to test the market, however, caving in to pressure from cinema chain Cinemark, who were unhappy about the potential lost revenue and, perhaps more importantly, the precedent Universal would have set.
Back in February last year Disney incurred the wrath of Odeon in the UK, when the studio wanted to release Alice in Wonderland on DVD considerably earlier than the industry’s standard agreed release window of 16 weeks.
Odeon were seen as the victors of that particular battle, but Disney still managed to break the window by over a month, effectively paving the way for other distribs to do the same.
With film marketing costs rising and the need to maximize revenues by as many means and as quickly as possible, the window ‘rule’ is there to be broken. It’s just a question of whether the studios hold big enough stones.
In Universal’s case, they were holding mere pebbles; with stiff competition around the release of Tower Heist and the lack of tentpole films on their slate until Battleship in May next year, Universal could hardly afford for Cinemark to veto screening the movie.
18 months on from the Disney/Odeon debacle and no UK distrib has attempted anything similar. For now, exhibs are maintaining a tough stance on the window issue but inevitably, these one-offs will become more frequent.
With the threat of next summer’s Olympics taking auds from the big to small screen, many distribs will be delaying their traditional August tentpole release slots and releasing in September.
This means they’ll be looking to break the 16 week window in order to get the DVDs out in time for the busy Christmas trading period.
For now, the release window remains ajar. But rest assured, with the financial storms being weathered by studios and distributors, we’ll see it blowing open and shut on a far more regular basis.