The Weekly Moviegoer - Do Release Windows Really Matter?
by Christopher Campbell
October 20, 2009
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.