EDITORIALS

The Weekly Moviegoer - Do Release Windows Really Matter?

by
October 20, 2009

DVD Bargain Bin

Do you pay attention to movie release windows? If movies came out on DVD and Blu-Ray sooner, would it encourage you to wait to see more titles on home video instead of seeing them in the theater?

I can't imagine that the general population would answer yes to either of these questions. But the chance that they would is of great worry to American cinemas. That's why whenever a release window is shortened, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) throws a fit. It's been awhile since one of the studios had the gall to significantly venture lower than the average length of time between theatrical release and video, but Paramount caused a stir last week after announcing DVD release dates for G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (11/3) and The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (11/10), each of which arrives a mere 88 days after they opened in theaters.

Remember 15 years ago and beyond, when it seemed to take forever for a movie to come out on video? And then another forever to hit cable? Actually, the thing I often wonder about the original video window of 6 to 7 months is, did movies stick around in theaters longer back then than they do now? Again, it may just seem like that was the case. (If anyone has the time and greater curiosity, feel free to analyze the data and tell me the truth below.) But if that were true, it might mean today's window of 3 to 4 months is relatively fairer than it appears.

Anyway, in the mid ‘90s NATO made a fuss when the window shrank to less than 6 months. A few years ago, the issue came up again when studios started talking about their desire to close the windows altogether (while edging the window down to what is has been lately). This was around the same time that “day-and-date,” or simultaneous releases on multiple distribution channels, were a hot idea thanks to new or more available modes of delivery like video-on-demand and internet download.

None of that really took off in the mainstream movie industry (though IFC continues its day-and-date VOD practice, which must mean it works well for them), maybe because a shut window really would influence more moviegoers to avoid the cinema. And that would actually hurt Hollywood while it hurts NATO. However, a short window versus a long one can't be that big a deal. Those of us who like seeing movies in the theater are going to go to the movies no matter what. And there will always be those less-appealing movies that we'll view as being better waited for on video.

Take for instance Where the Wild Things Are. I want to see that in the theater regardless of whether the DVD will come out one month from now or a year from now. Then there's Whip It, which I don't feel is that much of a priority. I'm interested in seeing it eventually. But I could wait a whole year if that's just how it goes. No matter how long that movie is in theaters I don't think I'll feel I want to spend my $12 on it when there's so many other more theatrically appropriate movies to see in the theater instead.

That's how it goes for me, and I believe it's how enough moviegoers think -- shrinking the video window another month will therefore not drastically hurt attendance levels. Is it still a sign of greed on the part of the studios? Sure it is, but it's not unforgivable with two critically panned movies that maybe shouldn't have been released at all, period. I believe that the studios do a much greater disservice to theater owners by making crappy movies that moviegoers don't want to see than it does lessening the time between when those crappy movies are released to theaters and when they come out on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Of course, if NATO really feels cinemas are being screwed, they need to do more than whine about it. Three years ago theater owners in Italy and Germany succeeded in holding windows sufficiently open through bans and boycotts of Miami Vice and Night at the Museum, respectively. The logical thing to do now is ban or boycott any new Paramount release. Unfortunately, the next releases from the studio (Up in the Air and The Lovely Bones) aren't out for another two months, which will be weeks too late.

So what else could NATO do to show Hollywood it has an equal set of balls? And do they really need to be concerned in the first place? Please, let me (and the industry) know what you think of the release window issue in the comments section.

DVD bargain bin photo courtesy of Kasey Marcum on Flickr.

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  • Tra la la la la di da
    Maybe they could stop calling themselves NATO and get creative with their own name. Oh way...I forgot, they prefer reboots, sequels, and other unoriginal ideas. Still...I'm with you on movies that should be seen in theater and those that shouldn't. Wild Things Are? Theater? No. Action movies with big explosions and what not...yes please! The rare comedy where you know everyone will laugh with you, like Zombieland, or actually scary movie, not slasher, where you can hear everyone gasp all at once removing the oxygen from the theater. Anything slow, lovie-dovie, or seemingly enchanted like Where the Wild Things Are? without the big cinematic scenes, can wait. We have a 42" TV at home in hopes of a 51" soon with surround sound. It's not a big deal to wait for much much cheaper prices to Netflix and decide if you want to buy. Smaller window won't change people form going or not especially if they don't know. To answer your question about the past and it seemed like forever. That was also because there weren't are these filler movies, this crap of film being released for no other reason than someone was bored and thought they needed to make a movie. It seems like this stuff just keeps coming out and blockbusters like Star Wars re-release, JP, ID4, Titanic, and LOTR stayed in theaters for awhile and they'd switch the smaller movies out over and over. Now it's a rare thing for even a huge movie to stay in unless it's a 24 screen theater which a lot of places have but not everywhere.
  • http://scrivenerserror.blogspot.com Jaws
    I will consider going to a movie theater more than once a year or so here in East Central Redneckistan when: * I am not stuck going to one of two multiplexes... in a major university town that's the center of a 200,000+ population zone * Auditoriums are designed with at least some consideration of people with back problems, or who wear bifocals * The concessions stand isn't full of stale food packed with allergens (let alone at non-astronomical prices) * The films available are the ones I want to see: Not four screens of Transformers, but perhaps only three screens of Transformers and one screen of Moon * The pre-film "advertising" is played at the same volume as the film * Film availability isn't essentially determined by the political and religious preferences of a bunch of idiots who inaccurately "rate" films for the MPAA In short, when the National Association of Theatre Owners starts considering the audience's diverse needs and wants instead of clinging to a business and technological model that has been obsolete for at least two decades, I'll start considering theirs. Until then, the only way I'm going to be putting any money at all into their coffers is for the occasional film directly related to my work that, due to pending or potential claims/litigation/etc., I have to see on or shortly after the initial release date. Otherwise, I'm a patient predator.
  • http://www.popcornmonster.com Dan Geer
    I remember "Home Alone" being in the theater for quite a few months (may have even been a whole year). Titanic was also in theaters for a year, I believe. I definitely recall movies taking much longer to come out on video, and also successful movies staying in theaters longer than they do now. This is why nothing will beat Titanic's ridiculous box office record. If my memory serves me well, I also remember the first Tim Burton "Batman" film being one of the only videos to be released so soon after its theatrical release back in 1989. It was released in June of that year I think, and it came out in November of the same year - which back then was unheard of. But for the most part videos definitely took longer to come out. I haven't researched all this, but I think my memory is sharp on this topic here.
  • Jamie G.
    I think it is a huge deal. You gave us two good examples to the contrary but where it is a big deal is with the tweener movies. There are a lot of movies that my wife and I decided to wait for the dvd because we knew the wait wasn't that long and it would save us 30 bucks if we waited. Yes there are some big action movies that I won't wait to see like Avatar, or 2012. If the wait were longer for dvd than I would hit the theater more often. If they shorten it further I'll beef up my home theater even more and not worry about the hassle and expense of theaters.
  • dannyJ
    The Hangover is still here in Buffalo with about 6 showtimes still. I even think the $1.50 theater has picked it up now so it will proll stay there for another 3 months
  • usonnychiba1
    I love going to he cinema but it's just getting to be too costly. For example to take me, my girlfriend and 2 kids to see Up at the cinema will cost £10 each adult and £8 each kid (£36). Drinks will come to £7, popcorn £9 and parking £2. Total cost £52. Which is why I get so pissed off when a film is rubbish as it's cost me £50. DVD at £15. Unless it's a must see film for me (like Avatar, Dark Knight, UP for example) I just cannot justify the cash. I love the cinema, it's just gotten too much for most families I know.
  • robert
    I think your right #3 about TB's batman. i remember it was big news then because then me and my brother could have our very own copies that christmas. the last movie i remember stating in the theaters for a long time was ferris buellers day off. it seems that movie never left the theatres rotation. for the most part due to what hollywood is cranking out i'll usually wait until dvd. think about it, usually blu-ray and dvd retail for 15 to 20 bucks (on sale!!!) when there released. thats ususally less than what i pay for going to the movies in the first place. plus if i like the flick i can watch it whenever i want. if not i resell it or give it to one of my nephews. with 42in tv's and surround sound in the comfort of my own home i can duplicate the "movie going experience" plus i have gotten over the pavlovian connection between movies and popcorn. ten bucks for that old shit!!!! i think people only choose to go to the big summer tentpole movies are because those are hopefully loud enough to drown out sound of a crying baby bought to the rated "r" 300. or no matter what theater i go to there always seems to be a kid who kicks my fiancees seat in any given pixar movie. the point is i do pay attention to release windows or dvd release dates. it benefits me, my sanity and my wallet all the popcorn money saved goes to video games anyways
  • Letter J
    I'm all for movies coming out quicker on DVD / Blu Ray / On Demand because of several issues ... 1) I can't go to see a movie anymore without some jagaloon ruining my experience. People talking or texting during the movie drives me up the wall. Junior high kids distracting me while running in and out of the multiple theaters all night, so that they can hang out with their friends, in some place other than the local mall. This is not my idea of an ideal environment for enjoying a movie. I'd much rather be at home, and enjoy the ability to not be interrupted / distracted. 2) Over the last year or so, On Demand has made certain films available before they hit theaters. I really enjoyed watching "Che: Parts 1 and 2" ,weeks before it's official cinema release date, sitting in the quiet of my own home personal theater. My HD and digital surround sound experience was quite enjoyable. Enough so that I would have been willing to pay double the On Demand rental price of $5.99 per film for this type of experience. Most of the films currently available in this kind of scenario are IFC / limited release films and would never hit my hometown. But again, I would be willing to pay more than the cost of the a standard rental fee to have this kind of comfort for all films, if they were available same day as their theater release dates. I don't think I'd be alone on this one. 3) If I love a movie, I buy it and probably watch it several times over within the week it comes out for home entertainment use. Rarely will I go to the theater and see a film several times. The last time I saw something more than twice in a theater was "Attack of the Clones", I believe. Going to the movies is expensive, and I'm not about to devote a huge portion of my free time to seeing films that are "OK". For Hollywood to get my money on repeat business within successful films, they're going to want to get their products out on Blu Ray and charge me the $30 (which matches the median cost of 4 cinema screenings) to get the maximum amount of money out of me. Quicker releases allow me to enjoy a film the way movie lovers and enthusiasts were meant to do so ... on our own terms.
  • http://www.goseetalk.com Marc
    There's no longevity for a film in a theater, I think, for 2 reasons: 1. Studios know they can make their money in other places than just the theater. 2. We, as the audience, have this increasingly insatiable appetite for entertainment, which unfortunately causes the studios to give us disposable entertainment. Thinking about this for some time now, I believe that studios, more than ever, are able to make so much more money on the back end with DVD and Blu Ray sales. Ever so much more than with VHS sales and the like years ago. So their angle of attack is to flood the media with ads right up to the release and hope for the biggest cash grab they can attain in those first weeks. Then not worry about making any more huge money in the theater becasue DVD sales will supplement the box office take, and there will be another film to replace it making money for them. Now I don't have any insider info on this but we can all agree (since it's very evident - good article Christopher btw) films don't last long in the theaters. The way I see it, so many more people have home theaters and the prices of TV's and DVD/Blu Ray players and the like are dropping so everyone can afford them. Also digital media is so transferable and portable that why would studios hope for one source of income (ticket monies alone) when they can distribute and charge for their product so many other places? @#2...you're right on. Those movies played and played and played. Why? Because they were good and deserved repeat viewings, but also, where else could you go to experience those films? Answer: No place - the theaters were it.
  • http://www.goseetalk.com Marc
    D'oh I meant @#3...Dan Geer, you're right on...
  • Ken
    If a movie is a must-see for me then I will go to the theater, if not... then yes it goes to the netflix queue. Even if they released at the same time in theaters and on dvd I'd still go see a good movie in the theater for the experience.
  • David
    With these hard times we are all in now its not easy anymore to justify a $20+ night at the movies for something that might not be very good. Its much better to just wait and spend your $3 or whatever and watch it on your time with no one sittng infront of you talking through the whole movie. Now i'm not saying to never go out, I saw paranormal activity the other night in theaters and it was amazing, but movies such as GI Joe, you can wait a few months or so and not be pissed that you just gave away your hard earned cash.
  • rowdy
    going to the theaters is something i look foward to every week the only thing that keeps me away is a film that looks like its not going to be worth the money or i'm broke plus its the best way to experiance a great movie but that said the hurt locker was in theaters for like two seconds and I would have gone twice but it was gone to quick I mean if there was one movie I would want to come out on dvd fast it would be that one its not like their showing it in theaters any way so please studios be greedy realese hurt locker take my money cuase that movie was definately worth the price of admition
  • Antioch
    The price is ridiculous... when I was a kid it was $3.50 to see a matinee and $5 to see a show at night. Now all these premadonnas have to make 20 million per pic and the studios are barely satisfied with a movie that makes 300 million. Other than that, #8 got it right on. People (especially teenagers) have no manners or decency in public anymore and they ruin the experience for everyone by talking, texting, constantly moving around, or being a general dumass trying to get his/ her friends to think they're funny. They just seem more immature, I guess, but maybe it's just the way kids are being raised (or not being raised) by their folks these days. I almost prefer watching movies on my 27" TV at home vs. spending the money and knowing full well there is a good chance my experience will be ruined or distracting by some dumb kid.
  • Akirakorn
    I'm still shocked about people whining about texting and these self-obsorbed commercials filmmakers have about silencing your sell phones. What about Babies? Saw Where the Wild Things Are and I thought the dozen or so kids talking through the movie (the were asking questions about the movie, not being rude or necessarily yapping) wasn't a bother, somewhat cute even. After all it's a kids movie. But the two babies constantly whining is utter crap. Even at R-rated movies I occasionaly get a stroller or two. So if theater owners want to whine they can go to hell. They closed down the only discount theater here, because the land owners sold the lease for some stupid club, not because of the recession. One last thing, instead of upping drink prices to $7, why not sell those 1/4 sheet posters the sometimes give away. I'd buy one for $2-$3 bucks, especially if it's for the movie I just saw.
  • sam
    i wish movies would come to dvd two weeks after opening in the theater
  • Nikhil Hariharan
    I pretty much agree with everyone above me, and since im a college student, the theaters in our campus town isnt like back home. Their are basically 2 main theaters, and they play "the main" movies only. I mean we just got Paranormal Activity and it wasnt even advertised, so im not sure how well thats going to do. But these are my main reasons for why i like shorter release windows and why it matters to me 1) Theaters dont play international films/indie films/short films, such as Moon 2) The price of tickets and food at the theater is getting expensive, $10.50 tickets, and when i was in the university in Chicago, tickets are easily $15, and seriously $4 for a box of candies? 3) Sometimes the college atmosphere doesnt help when your watching a movie, the audience basically ruined paranormal activity 4) Movies that are rumored to have an UNRATED/EXTENDED CUT that is better than the theatrical is something i look for, because typically the Blu-Ray edition will be better (Usually horror films) I already have a home theater system with my own projector, so i can get a better movie watching experience with my Blu-Rays at home, so i can wait till the holidays when i go back home. But some release windows i always look out for, DISNEY being a great example of how to properly transfer movies to Blu and create great packaging for low prices. But as a college student, i can say that i love shorter release windows.
  • Brad
    I love movies, but I hate the movie theater experience. I always end up stepping in gum, or spilled coke. I always feel like there's germs everywhere (Swine Flu anyone?). You got people walking in front of you, or someone kicking your seat. Some jerks in the back won't shut up, or some stupid parents brought a baby to a really loud action movie and the thing is gonna cry through the entire thing. A baby isn't going to remember the movie. Get a babysitter, or don't even go to the theater! If you want to breast feed your baby in public, I'm fine with that, because they're quiet and happy, but if you can't keep your baby quiet during a movie, that's where I draw the line. Also, I have to drive quite a ways to even the closest theater and it's over $10 to get in, just for me. By the time I factor in gas there and back, and the ticket (forget about buying their expensive snacks), I could just wait a few months and get the DVD cheaper, see it as many times as I want, in my own home, on my 46" HDTV, in peace and quiet, and I can pause it to go to the bathroom. The last movie I saw in a theater was "Pearl Harbor". That's how long it has been. Most movies I really want to see now, don't even play in this theater where I'm at. So I'm not going to see a movie in the theater anyways. With that said, I think they should release them on DVD sooner because I'm more likely gonna buy them instead of something else, like a video game. All the good movies in summer usually come out in the fall around the time when all the good video games come out and to be honest, I'd rather buy a video game. It's not gonna kill me to wait longer to see it on HBO. Others just download it off the internet, or rent it. Maybe they could have a deal where if you go see the same movie twice, or if you go see 4 different movies in a month, you can buy a DVD early? This would encourage people to go to the theater more. It still wouldn't convince me to go, but I think it could be a great deal to help out the theater business, people will get their DVDs sooner, the industry will sell more DVDs and get more ticket sales. I think it would be a win all around.
  • Arsenio Lo Bosco
    can sombody please pass the CHEESE.........Joking aside you are all on the money,the theather experiance as all about vanished, why you ask because back when i first saw Jaws, Star Wars (the originales) the Godfather movies the Sting, Rosemarys Baby,The Exsorsist,......and all them good oll Movies that we all ejoyed because it was an experience. Today you can't have that unless you go to the earley showings when there is way less anoyance, the price isn't as bad, & you can sneek your own candy but you find your self kind of alone. Dont get me to wrong i still go to the movies and buy the dvd or blue rays that are the clasics and enjoy them, but man would i love to have the old ways back when the movie you just saw was cool and could not wait to go back with more freinds to enjoy that experience over again..........Arsie here on 10/20....
  • dave13
    my understanding always was that crappy movies come out after a short window (cause they came and left theaters in 2 months or less) and the blockbuster films etc are the ones that you often have to wait a year before you can buy a dvd of. i think it should stay that way, cause honestly, how else could I go see UP a second time 2 months after the release date? Some movies are worth watching again in theaters, especially on those weekends when there is nothing else good there. also, keep cinemas open is good. now if we could just lower the price to a more reasonable level ($7 or $8 is fair, but $11?! c'mon!) and also remove those damn VIP reserve seats with the extra row lights! the people who buy those tickets often don't even sit still, and its annoying to everyone else that is stuck on the side aisle seats nearby. ok, rant over.
  • Kris
    I rarely go to the actual movies now with the prices...started at 8 bucks, then 9.50 then 10, now 11.50. Yeah, I think not when I can wait 1 day to watch it online for free or just wait for dvd. oh and 2-3 bucks for a drink which as all I need...freaking retarded prices...
  • dELVIS
    The sounds of people munching loudly People text-messaging on their cellphones Folks who talk to one another, during the movie, as though they're at home in their living room The list can go on & on... Give me a movie-going experience without all of those & I might think Chris is on to something. However, as mentioned before, the only way you might have a positive experience going to the cinema is if you go to a matinee (sometimes a late-late show). I've also found that midnight showings, regardless of the long lines, are consistently hassle free since the people that attend obviously really want to see & experience the movie. These people are less inclined to annoying habits. Take me to the movies on a Friday or Saturday around 7 o'clock & I won't come back for at least 2 months.
  • David Banner
    I think quick relases to homevideo actually kills the filmindustry. The faster a film hits DVD/Blu-Ray, the faster it gets uploaded/downloaded. With 6-12months in the theaters, surely the studios make more money? With a longer window before relase to homevideo, more would go to the movies. Or do ppl still download and watch handheld filmed screeners, lol? Downloading does 'hurt' the industry, but does not kill it. Newsflash, ppl have been copying Beta, VHS, LaserDisc's, DVD's for decades now before Downloading without paying became a household occupation. Simple soultions(in my world) for keeping films alive: 1)Longer time in the theaters 2)Cheaper tickets-more ppl would go to the movies. 3)Cheaper DVD/Blurays. More ppl would buy DVD's. 4)Global release dates. Really annoying living in Scandinavia and having to wait 4 months for a film to hit the theaters? (Not to mention ALL TV-series). 5)Free Blu-Ray players anyone? If you get the 'hardware' for free, you are much more likely to buy alot more DVD's. My own, closed studies, show this to be true, I have thousands of VHS/DVD's/LaserDisc's/HD-DVD's and Blu-Rays. And I do go to the movies 2-3 times a month. But in times of hardship, like many have felt last year or so, with the econemy dropping, or being flushed away: The Movies is where we go for our kicks, it's good, cheap entertainment. In the 20's-30's it was common to sell over 100million movie tickets a week. And those 20's 30's were hard times. So, ppl have in the past gone en masse to the theaters, maybe this trend can be turned, simply by lowering prices and keeping movies longer in theaters? If it's a 6month window between the theaters and homevideo, it's more likely someone would buy that film. If you saw a movie in the theaters 2 months ago, would you really buy it, to see it at home after such a short time? Maybe I should check out the sales on 'Twillight' before I say this... The faster a movie hits DVD, the more likely it sucks. Keep the alure of a great experience with keeping movies longer in the theaters please
  • http://www.firstshowing.net/author/campbell/ Christopher Campbell
    Great points, David. I'm all for keeping movies in theaters longer. There are plenty of films I miss because of short theatrical windows. Mainly because I live in NYC where about 100 movies I want to see open weekly. Some play only one week engagements. The issue with this for the studios, though, and why they would not be interested in keeping their product in cinemas is that the longer a movie is out, the less money the studio gets to keep. After a month or so, the balance of profit share between the studios and theaters leans more to the theater owner. As for the decrease in price, I would also love this, but how often does an industry cut the price of its in-demand goods? Movies still superficially seem to be making record profits, so Hollywood can see no reason to halve the ticket price and trust that it would lead to more ticket sales. And given some of the above comments, I'm not sure if lowered ticket price would actually be enough to attract these people who dwell on every negative aspect of the moviegoing experience.

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