The future of pay-per-view -- Can Comcast bring movies to your TV the same day they hit theaters?

By Nicole Sperling
Updated May 18, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Imagine being able to see Shrek the Third on opening day — in the comfort of your own home. No lines, no overpriced candy, no sitting next to a guy giving a scene-by-scene recap of the film into his cell. That’s the scenario Comcast COO Stephen Burke presented on May 7, when he reportedly announced that the nation’s largest cable operator has spoken with major film studios about offering movies on pay per view the same day they hit theaters.

Sounds great, right? Not to theater owners, who are concerned that releasing movies ”day-and-date” — rather than waiting for the usual three- to four-month window between theatrical and DVD releases — could ultimately kill the multiplex. ”I don’t see benefits to anybody but Comcast,” says Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements theaters and vice-chair of Viacom (which owns Paramount). ”Day-and-date would hurt studios and the quality of movies would go down. Filmmakers don’t want to make films made to be seen at home.” And consumers may balk at the $30-50 price tag Burke floated — even if it means they can catch Spider-Man 3 in their pj’s.

But Comcast’s threat could prove very real: EW has learned that five of the six major studios have already partnered with the cable operator to test a separate system in two cities that allows viewers to watch movies on pay per view the same day the DVD hits stores. (Sony did not participate.) It’s likely they’re cooperating because their parent companies rely on Comcast to carry their channels. So far, though, Redstone says the experiment has yielded ”unimpressive” results. (Comcast declined to comment.) No studios reached by EW would confirm they’ve even discussed, much less endorsed, the day-and-date idea with Comcast. Says Warner Bros. domestic distribution president Dan Fellman, ”We support the [theatrical] experience and we’ll continue to do so.”