First Netflix and now Universal Pictures have killed a change in direction after fierce resistance. In the case of Universal, the studio was testing what was acceptable to their partners, theater owners, as well as moviegoers, who are demanding earlier access to new movies. Universal had planned to make Bret Rattner's Tower Heist available via Video on Demand only three weeks after opening November 4 in theaters. Exhibitors and filmmakers from James Cameron to Jon Favreau are fighting to keep the theatrical window an average of 90 days, while several studios are pushing back, under pressure to move toward a shortened window, due to the decline of DVD revenues as well as global piracy concerns.
Several theater chains including Cinemark refused to book Tower Heist, which pushed Universal to abandon course.
Here's a statement from John Fithian, the spokesman for The National Association of Theatre Owners, which represents some 30,000 movie screens in the U.S. and cinemas in 50 countries worldwide, as well as a video of his heated debate with 2929 Entertainment's Todd Wagner at TIFF, below:
“NATO would like to thank Universal for responding to various theater owners' concerns and cancelling the PVOD test it was contemplating. They have been engaged with individual exhibitors on this test, and while it was something that many theater owners could not ultimately support, the open and collaborative nature of the dialogue is appreciated. NATO recognizes that studios need to find new models and opportunities in the home market, and looks forward to distributors and exhibitors working together for their mutual benefit."
Indies such as Magnolia and IFC already push premium features such as Lars von Trier's Melancholia out with a premium pricetag months ahead of their theatrical release. Warner Bros., Universal, Fox and Sony tried a shortened two-month window--amid huge outcry from exhibitors--with DirectTV and a $29.99 pricepoint that may have been too high. Industry models are changing and anxiety is high as no one wants to break what does work, building future ancillary value and branding via reviews and word-of-mouth over a theater run--as opposed to making movies accessible to audiences as soon as advertising reaches them. Many consumers want movies for free everywhere at the same time, which is not going to work for anyone.
I moderated the State of the Industry panel (video below) at the Toronto International Film Festival focusing on the controversy caused by DirectTV's experiment offering films on its VOD channels just two months after their theatrical release. Fithian and Canada's Landmark Cinemas COO Neil Campbell heatedly debate the issue and its impact on the global film industry, with Wagner, CEO of 2929 Entertainment, which owns Magnolia, as well as Chris McGurk, CEO of Cinedigm, and Geoff Gilmore, Chief Creative Officer of Tribeca Enterprises, which is also pushing into alternative distribution for indie cinema. It's a rousing discussion.