In case you hadn’t noticed, the distribution model for movies is beginning to change. More and more, we’re seeing films premiere simultaneously in theaters and “on-demand.” In some cases, we’ll even see films released to video-on-demand services before they hit theaters.
I personally took notice of the trend this past week, when I realized that a number of the movies available for purchase through my on-demand service had yet to be released in local theaters. I wondered why this was, especially since this type of release format would’ve been unheard of only a few years ago.
Well, it turns out that smaller studios may simply be testing the waters (so to speak) of non-traditional content releasing. The fact that we’re seeing more of it lately may be a strong indicator that there’s some profitability in it.
From IFC to Magnolia Pictures, a number of companies have been trying it out. And the distribution model may have acquired its biggest supporter yet in the Weinstein Company, which recently put out a press release announcing that their newest division would be set up specifically to distribute “specialty entertainment…across multiple digital and traditional platforms,” which will include on-demand services. According to one article, “David Glasser, Weinstein Co.’s chief operating officer, said starting the new division would allow his company to explore new business models without undermining the parent studio.”
Companies opting to use this dual-release model are likely hoping that the on-demand exposure of their films will act as a sort of ad campaign for the theatrical runs of those same films, and vice versa. After all, whether folks are watching at home or in theaters, they’re still watching, right? Admittedly, the new model makes a lot of sense from a distributor’s perspective.
Understandably, however, the National Association of Theater Owners isn’t happy about the development. A few months back, they sent out an open letter to condemn the practice of allowing concurrent on-demand and theatrical viewings, calling it a “cannibalization of theatrical revenue” and noting (perhaps wisely) that it would lead to an increase in the current piracy problem faced by those working in the entertainment industry.
The professional filmmaking community is apparently siding with the theaters on this one, as several noteworthy filmmakers — James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, Jon Favreau, and Quentin Tarantino, to name a few — have signed the still-circulating letter.
In short, the simultaneous release of new films across theatrical and on-demand outlets is a work in progress. No one necessarily knows how it will pan out, and it’s already become quite a controversial and polarizing topic.
Personally, I’m in favor of having more on-demand options. If I’ve got the opportunity to watch newly released, theatrical movies in the comfort of my own home, then I’m a pretty happy camper. At the same time though, I certainly wouldn’t wish any hardship upon the exhibition industry. I enjoy the theatrical experience in general. Movie theaters have been an inseparable part of the cinematic experience for over a century now, and I wouldn’t want to see them become a thing of the past. I’ll always head to the theater for a superior viewing experience.
As exciting as the emergence of more consumer-friendly distribution channels is, it also poses a severe threat to the sustainability of the current release model — which is keeping the theatrical experience alive. Theaters aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but their shelf life is now being called into question, and that’s enough to get me worried.
Are you worried? Will you stop going to theaters if more new films are released to your on-demand service in the years to come? Let us know in the comments.