Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn drew loud applause at CinemaCon on Wednesday by saying that he did not support shortening the time that consumers must wait to buy or rent major theatrical releases.
"Come on, come on, this is important," Horn said he told fellow members of the movie business who wanted to release certain films on video-on-demand or on other platforms less than three months after they debut in theaters.
The issue of release windowing has been a contentious one between studios and theater owners. It is also a point of contention that was swept under the carpet for the first two days of the annual exhibition trade show in Las Vegas this week, only to emerge prominently both at Disney's presentation to theater owners about its upcoming slate of releases and at a panel discussion earlier in the day on the state of the movie business in the digital age.
At the panel, Universal Studios Chairman Adam Fogelson suggested that studios are not done experimenting with ways to reduce the amount of time customers must wait before big-budget releases are available in the home. The hope is that by reducing the amount of time, studios can avoid having their films pirated and can prop up sagging home entertainment sales.
Fogelson said that the studio is hoping to find "mutually safe ways of experimenting."
"My fundamental belief is this — there are people who love movies, love going to theaters but don’t have time," he added.
Fogelson said that he believed there was a premium price point — a fee much higher than the usual cost of a video-on-demand rental — that would accommodate these people without threatening ticket sales.
Two years ago, CinemaCon was rocked when news leaked that three studios were rolling out a new premium video-on-demand service that would offer films at $30 on DirectTV less than two months after they hit theaters. Theater owners' anger over the plan cast a pallor over the annual love-fest between exhibitors and studios.
Universal was one of the studios that was involved in the experiment, along with another abandoned plan in 2011 that would have seen the Ben Stiller comedy "Tower Heist" released in select markets on video-on-demand for $60 a mere three weeks after it hits theaters.
On Tuesday morning, Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which participated in the DirecTV initiative, implied that the release window scheme was ancient history. It was a fight, he said, that had seen studios win nothing.
That's not entirely accurate. Citing the National Association of Theatre Owners, an exhibition trade group, Fitch Ratings reported last week that the average theatrical release window had dropped to four months from roughly 5.5 months in 2000.