James Cameron, Michael Bay, Peter Jackson and more than 20 leading filmmakers and producers rallied behind the National Association of Theater Owners on Wednesday to criticize early video-on-demand.
In an open letter to the film community, the filmmakers asked the studios to put the breaks on a new deal that would see films released on DirecTV while they are still in theaters, for a premium price.
"As a crucial part of a business that last year grossed close to $32 billion in worldwide theatrical ticket sales,” the letter — on the NATO's website — reads, “we in the creative community feel that now is the time for studios and cable companies to acknowledge that a release pattern for premium video-on-demand that invades the current theatrical window could irrevocably harm the financial model of our film industry.”
Other signatories include Michael Mann, Gale Ann Hurd, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo del Toro and Brett Ratner. "Hangover" director Todd Phillips who publicly voiced solidarity with theater owners during Warner Brothers CinemaCon presentation is also listed.
Conspicuously absent from the note are such industry tastemakers as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese.
The letter stops short of asking studios to shelve their VOD plans, but the filmmakers to ask for a cooling-off period and a chance to be involved in a larger discussion about shortened theatrical-release windows.
"As leaders in the creative community, we ask for a seat at the table. We want to hear the studios’ plans for how this new distribution model will affect the future of the industry that we love," the letter states.
The premium VOD platform kicks off on Thursday with the release of "Just Go With It." For $30, DirecTV customers can rent the title for 48 hours, 60 days its theatrical release. Four studios — Fox, Sony, Warner Brothers, and Universal — are making their films available through the new windows.
Studios have privately maintained that premium VOD is the best way to stabilize the home entertainment market and reestablish a price point that's been depressed by dollar rental kiosks and subscription services such as Netflix.
However, the filmmakers caution in the letter that shortening windows could undermine the theatrical market, forcing theaters to close and exacerbating problems with digital piracy.
"History has shown that price points cannot be maintained in the home video window," the letter states. "What sells for $30-a-viewing today could be blown out for $9.99 within a few years. If wiser heads do not prevail, the cannibalization of theatrical revenue in favor of a faulty, premature home video window could lead to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue."
They further claim that competition for screens will grow so fierce that independent films, which need time to build an audience, will be shouldered out of the marketplace.
Here's a full list of signatories:
Guillermo del Toro
Gale Anne Hurd