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Universal Tests Early VOD ‘Heist’ 3 Weeks After Movie Hits Theaters

Renting the Eddie Murphy action-comedy ”Tower Heist“ will reportedly cost $60, but test will be limited to Atlanta and Portland, Ore.

Oh, theater owners are going to love this. 

Universal will release "Tower Heist" on video-on-demand some three weeks after it hits theaters for a hefty fee. 

The studio, which confirmed the test after the L.A. Times reported it on Wednesday, is terming it a "first of its kind" experiment." It is limited to Comcast subscribers in two markets, Atlanta and Portland, Ore.

The studio said it "will allow the two companies to sample consumer appetite for this film in this window at this price while allowing the film to achieve its full potential at the box office."

It's all in the family, since Comcast purchased Universal last January. 

The studio did not confirm the price for this early access to "Tower Heist," but renting the action-comedy at home will reportedly set viewers back a wallet-busting $60.

If true, that price-tag is especially ironic since "Tower Heist" centers on a group of Ponzi-scheme victims who team up to get back at their Madoff-like investor. Directed by Brett Ratner, the film stars Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller and is set to debut on Nov. 4.

Ratner has been a critic of studios' attempts to move the window for early VOD forward. Along with filmmakers such as James Cameron and Peter Jackson, he signed an open letter slamming studios for releasing films for a premium price while they are still in theaters. 

Though the early home entertainment roll-out represents a bold risk for Universal and should provoke outrage among exhibitors, the test is limited. Universal said it was contemplating further VOD experiments, however.

A spokesperson for the National Assn. of Theater Owners did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but if history is any guide, exhibitors will not take kindly to Universal's experimentation. 

After news broke last spring that four major studios including Universal would debut over a dozen films a mere two months after they hit theaters on DirecTV, theater owners were outraged.

At the time, they claimed that early VOD debuts of movies like “Just Go With It” and “Unknown” would cannibalize ticket sales.

NATO and its members have shown a greater tolerance for VOD experiments by the likes of Summit and Lionsgate that move the home entertainment debuts of films such as "Source Code" and "Abduction" up, but respect a 90-day window that theater owners say is necessary.