Imagine There’s No Movie Theater

It’s easy if you try. And with the advent of torrents and some other tools for consumers to get their hands on video clips quickly, it’s certainly a possibility. So the media industry is feeling the pinch and trying to get out ahead of the demand. But I’m wondering if moving up the ability to access VOD (Video on Demand) in home is the answer, and some well known names in the business are certainly taking exception to it.

Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Michael Bay and More Write Letter Opposing Premium VOD Service

Peter Jackson and James Cameron write letter opposing Premium VOD Service

This Thursday, DirecTv will launch its new Premium VOD service, which allows viewers to watch new movies from Warner Bros., Sony, Universal, and 20th Century Fox in their homes just 60 days after a title’s initial theatrical release for a fee of $30. Today, 23 of Hollywood’s top directors have published a letter in opposition against this VOD platform.

This letter, which was put together by James Cameron and his producing partner Jon Landau in conjunction with NATO (the National Assn. of Theater Owners ), is set to coincide with Thursday’s launch of the Adam Sandler comedy Just Go with It, which will be the first Home Premiere title available to HD customers for $29.99.

Along with James Cameron and Jon Landau, other letter signers include Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo del Toro, Roland Emmerich, Peter Jackson, Shawn Levy, Michael Mann, Todd Phillips, Brett Ratner, Adam Shankman, Gore Verbinski, Robert Zemeckis, Karyn Kusama, Antoine Fuqua, Todd Garner, Lawrence Gordon, Stephen Gyllenhaal, Gale Anne Hurd, Bill Mechanic, Jamie Patricof, and Robert Rodriguez.

Here is the letter in full:


We are the artists and business professionals who help make the movie business great. We produce and direct movies. We work on the business deals that help get movies made. At the end of the day, we are also simply big movie fans.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk by leaders at some major studios and cable companies about early-to-the-home “premium video-on-demand.” In this proposed distribution model, new movies can be shown in homes while these same films are still in their theatrical run.

In this scenario, those who own televisions with an HDMI input would be able to order a film through their cable system or an Internet provider as a digital rental. Terms and timing have yet to be made concrete, but there has been talk of windows of 60 days after theatrical release at a price of $30.

Currently, the average theatrical release window is over four months (132 days). The theatrical release window model has worked for years for everyone in the movie business. Current theatrical windows protect the exclusivity of new films showing in state-of-the-art theaters bolstered by the latest in digital projection, digital sound, and stadium seating.

Read the rest here.

I’ve waxed on elsewhere about artificial scarcities being created where none normally exists, and how that irritates me, and keeping people from VOD is strictly creating a scarcity — or trying. Yet I’m wondering what would be sacrificed (even short term) if we inch open the floodgates some more for access to movies. Oh, you say they’re already open? Well, not quite, but it’s not long before they are, so is there a good reason to keep people from quicker in home access? I don’t know. Will there come a day when we look back at movie watching in a theater as a quaint old custom? Oh, I have lots of thoughts about this, but I’m interested in yours.


  1. Thought provoking issue. My first reaction though is that if someone really wants to see a movie at home, they can usually find it on the internet somewhere (granted – illegally) within days of its release.

    I love going to the movies but the reality is that there are still lots of places in the world where there is not that kind of access. Or sometimes for other reasons you can’t get yourself to a movie theater (health reasons for example; I certainly felt the pinch of that this year).

    So, all that to say, I’m not sure where I fall on this issue yet. But I agree that it feels like this resistance to VOD early release is artificially trying to bolster one vehicle of this industry. At the end of the day, if a consumer wants to find something online – for free – they will. And even when they do, they still might decide they want to buy the DVD. Therefore, same could be said about ‘going to the movies’. If someone really wants that experience, they’ll spend a few bucks to do so. But since movie going is getting pretty expensive, they might wait to rent it, or buy the DVD or find it online somewhere….

  2. I have a question – I really don’t know how this industry works….Do the producers/directors get mainly their cut of profits from the box office or would they also be getting a share through VOD and such? And about ‘ratings’ of movies – based on box office again? There is still a stigma to movies going ‘straight-to’ DVD release. Wonder how much of this is driven by the need to create buzz for a movie that right now the box office receipts impact more than DVD or VOD could…

  3. There’s nothing like watching a movie on a big screen and it is that experience that the filmmakers should try to protect. But I am sympathetic to people who cannot see movies in a cinema because they are not able to get out in the evenings (say) – applies to many people with families after all. And some screens in cinemas are not that much better than a half way decent projector and screen at home.

  4. From a practical point of view from someone who has small children and isn’t able to get out and go to the theatres as much as I’d like… having in-home access to the movies I want to see ASAP would be nice. However, I don’t see myself paying $30 for one movie! That’s a rip-off. On the other hand, like kaprekar said, there’s nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen and I’d hate to see them go out of business.

  5. I think that if movies continue have elements that make them better on a big screen than a small screen, people will continue to go to the cinemas. I hope they will, because I like doing that myself. At the same time, there have been enough times in my life when that just wasn’t an option. $30 is really a lot. I can’t imagine it will really attract people at that price unless they are showing it to all of their friends and neighbors.

  6. Isn’t the point of producing movies like The Hobbit or Avatar in 3D and with 48 fps to create something that only works in theatre in full glory?

  7. I wouldn’t pay $30/£18 for what’s essentially a bigged-up version of a YouTube clip, even it’s a full movie. I’d rather wait until it came out on DVD and watch it then! They’re trying to fight piracy, but this suggestion seems pretty futile. You still have to wait two months. If you’re internet-savvy and desperate to see a new film, you will have already found the torrent within the first week of its theatrical release and paid nothing. Sure, it won’t be in full HD and all that, but does that really matter as long as the quality is at least okay? If it was released no more than a week after the theatrical release, yeah, I could see how that could appeal. You can pay $30 and be however many you want watching the movie for the price of, say, 3 cinema tickets. It still won’t be the same as watching it in an actual cinema. If it’s a movie we really want to see as soon as it comes out, we go to the cinema. If we’re willing to wait, we’ll just wait until it comes out on DVD and rent it then for a fraction of that cost – or just buy it if it’s a “keeper” (just got new Harry Potter for £8.99 – half price of the VOD and I get a whole disc full of extras). So it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Fair enough that they want to do something about piracy, but they’re still thinking too much inside the box.

  8. I agree it doesn’t seem like the right solution to what I understand they want to give a solution to – piracy. I think most of us enjoy going to the cinema, watching something in HD and huge screen is a great experience, so I guess the major reason is price.
    Some people can’t pay for every movie they’d like to watch, specially in crisis times, or just can’t pay it, period – poorer countries where illegal download is more spread.
    I think what their efforts should go is in making good movies, worth the effort to go to the movies or at least by the DVD (i.e you’re not interested in going but is so well spoken of you end up going to the movies/buying the DVD) plus reinforcing the go to the movies culture. I
    I know there are other reason for people all over the world just downaloding stuff, movies, books, videogames, etc (i.e in this globalized era, where a mexican person speaks japanese and likes manga films -not sure that’s the correct term- and the charge for sending a dvd from japan cost as twice as the price of the actual dvd, might just want to download it) , so IMO the best option is to reduce the demand or alter its form not change or cut the supply. If the demand of a product is great or increases it will find the way to meet its necessities – downaloading.

    OML :)

  9. […] for consumers with regard to cost. It’s scary how quickly things have gone since I wrote this. We’re fast approaching the point of first run movies being mostly streamed to the home. I […]

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