Let’s say there’s a new Ryan Gosling-Kirsten Dunst drama coming out next week. Or maybe it’s a Joaquin Phoenix-Gwyneth Paltrow romance. Whatever it is, you have two choices. You could either, A, hire a babysitter for $50, drive to the multiplex, plunk down $20 on tickets, drop another $20 on popcorn and soda at the concession stand, and then squeeze yourself into a back row seat behind some guy wearing a stove pipe hat. Or B, you could push a button on your remote control and watch the movie unspool on your TV from the comfort of your own La-Z-Boys. Total cost: $10, maybe a little more for premium fare.
Seems like a no-brainer, right? So why is Hollywood still so wary of the idea of debuting their movies in theaters and on video-on-demand at the same time? Sure, there’s the argument that cinema is a communal art form. And it’s true, there is something to be said for sharing a theater with 300 die-hard Harry Potter fans. But these days Hollywood can’t afford to be so sentimental. Given the precarious state of the movie economy right now, with last month being the worst for ticket sales in 20 years, and with DVD revenues continuing to fall off a cliff, it’s time the town recognized VOD as the potential industry savoir that it is.
“The rules are going to have to change,” says Todd Wagner, CEO of 29/29 Entertainment, an innovative film company that actually released two of its movies — All Good Things and Two Lovers — on VOD even before they reached theaters (raking in millions in at-home rentals). “In a digital world, people want to be in charge of how they consume their content. You’re not going to be able to tell them they have to wait four months after a movie’s been in theaters to see it on DVD, and then two months after that on pay-per-view.”
Of course, theater owners have never been wildly excited by the idea of simultaneous release. They’ve been known to threaten studios with not screening their films should they ever try to break the traditional release window schedule. But Wagner and others may have found a way around that problem: Cut the theater owners in for, say, one percent of the home-delivery grosses. Whatever the theaters would lose in audience attendance, they could recoup in ancillary profit-sharing, making everybody happy, especially those of us who’d rather watch that Ryan Gosling-Kirsten Dunst movie without having to get off the sofa.
What about you Popwatchers? What would make you happy? Would you rather watch a new release on the big or on your own 50-inch plasma?
For more on Hollywood’s woes, and how EW would fix them, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands now.