As expected, Universal's premium VOD plan that probably won't work anyway, is ruffling some feathers with theater owners. Just to recap, the studio announced yesterday that in Portland and Atlanta, they would be running a test program where three weeks after Brett Ratner's "Tower Heist" hits theaters, the movie would be available for viewing right in your own home via Comcast VOD all for the low, low price of $59.99. Obviously, for theater chains who have bee continuing to battle against the shrinking windows between theatrical dates and online/video bows, this was a massive slap in the face. Already reeling from the still unresolved 3D glasses issue and previous attempts at premium VOD plans launched this summer, Cinemark has had enough.
"Cinemark has urged Universal Pictures to reconsider its market test of this product," the theater said in a statement (via Company Town). "If Universal Pictures moves forward with its 'Tower Heist' premium video-on-demand offering as announced, Cinemark has determined, in its best business interests, that it will decline to exhibit this film in its theatres."
Whether or not they will actually do good on their promise and decline to show the movie on their 3000 plus screens remains to be seen. Last year, AMC in the United States and Odeon in the U.K. both threatened to lock out Disney's "Alice In Wonderland" when the studio announced it would be on DVD/BluRay only 60 days after it hit theaters. But when the mouse house changed that plan to 90 days, the theaters backed down. And now, near a full day since Cinemark threw down the gauntlet, their fellow exhibitors remain awfully quiet. No other movie chain has voiced an opinion one way or another on the matter, but Cinemark clearly feels that if they don't take a stand now, the studios will be encouraged to keep pushing that line into the sand.
However, as we've stated time and again, there is blame to go around on all sides. Theater owners can do a lot more to ensure that when people fork over the already high price for a ticket, that they feel they are getting their money's worth and are given an exceptional presentation. And if studios keep diminishing the true value of going to see a movie in a theater, it will continue to undervalue their own product. For an industry already fighting rampant piracy, pushing audiences to stay home instead of seeing a film on a big screen makes zero sense. "Tower Heist" opens on November 4th and we're sure there will be more power plays over the next few weeks, but for now, the ball is back in Universal's court.