Controversial New Film Distribution Model Brings Movie Premieres to Your Home

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.

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. Eric

    Alright. I’m torn.

    Having read Chris Nolan’s signed-onto this, if this means I can get a jump on seeing “The Dark Knight Rises” come summer 2012, and not have to forge my way through the masses, I’d do it in an instant.

    …and I’ll still go see it in the theater.

    On the other hand, I go to the movies, too, for the audience. Comedies always seem funnier (even when they’re not) when you’ve got people laughing and reacting alongside you. I’ll admit – no shame in it – that the midnight preview of “Snakes on a Plane” I went to was SO much more enjoyable because of the rowdy crowd. Action films always seem more exciting when they’re taking place on the canvas of a huge projection screen. And good luck trying to replicate the level of THX surround sound they’ve got in there.

    I think it comes down to why we go to the movie theater, or not. The films will be exactly the same regardless of where they’re viewed, but the experience won’t be. And that much will be for the viewer to decide.

    Me? I’ll be at the theater.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I couldn’t agree more. The communal atmosphere at the theater just enhances the whole moviegoing experience, and I wish more people felt that way. Then again, I also wish that theater attendees wouldn’t cheapen the whole experience with their incessant chatter and cell phone usage during showings. It’s always a crap-shoot these days as to whether your movie is going to be interrupted by inconsiderate audience members. Regardless, I’ll always be fond of the theatrical experience in general.

  2. JPorretto

    I wouldn’t want to see theaters become a relic either, but if I can see a movie the day it comes out without shrieking children, incessant chewing, rattling candy boxes, slurping drinks, and giggling teenagers all around me, I call that a win.

    In fact, I’d probably pay MORE to see it at home. But I don’t like crowds, so maybe that’s just me…

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I have the exact same gripe with theaters, and I’m sure many movie-lovers out there feel similarly. If it weren’t for inconsiderate audiences, I’d be much more adamant about going to movies on opening weekend. It’s a shame, really. Still, I wouldn’t want to see theaters die out entirely. I get such a nostalgic feeling when I see movies at the theater — I’d hate to lose that.

      Like you said though, seeing new movies at home is almost more of a draw, as there’s no risk of being dissatisfied. Still, it all depends on the price.

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    I don’t even want movie theaters to die!! I will always pay to see the movie in theaters at least the first time (and I’ll get up before noon on the weekends to do it cheaply). There’s just something so great about sharing a movie with a whole theater of people gasping and laughing at the same time as you.

    However, I would like to have the option to watch it at home if it was say, my second, third, or twentieth viewing. If I just want to see it again but don’t want to 1) shell out the theater money again or 2) can’t wait until the DVD/Blu ray comes out, I think this would be a great option. Maybe they could institute some kind of two week waiting period?

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I’m all for the idea of a “two week waiting period” for new movies to be available on demand. Good call. Even four weeks would be cool with me.

      There’s going to be plenty of movies in the coming years that I’m sure I won’t want to wait for the Blu-Ray to see. “The Hobbit” comes to mind — it would be nice to have that as an on-demand option. 🙂 I’ll still see it in the theater first though.

      • Amanda

        Agreed! A 2-4 week waiting period would be great! It would still get lots of people out to the theaters opening week, and allow more people to view it from home. Great idea! =) I’d be in full support of that.

  4. amy

    I’m with Eric on seeing the benefits and with Jeff in seeing the drawbacks. I recently saw “I Don’t Know How She Does It” and the audience made the film so much more enjoyable to watch, I personally loved it, but laughing along to parts with a crowd made it a fun night out.

    However, I also do not enjoy “shrieking children, incessant chewing, rattling candy boxes, slurping drinks, and giggling teenagers all around me” like Jeff pointed out. So for that I’d love to be able to sit in my sweats at home eating my free popcorn.

    I’d like to have both options available to me, movie theaters for some movies and on-demand for others. So, I guess I’d like my cake and be able to eat it too please 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “I’d like to have both options available to me, movie theaters for some movies and on-demand for others.”

      Exactly! That would be absolutely ideal! Fortunately for consumers, it looks like that may eventually be the case. 🙂

      Unfortunately (for theater owners), it may severely damage the profitability of traditional movie theaters. 🙁 Hopefully they can find a way to keep drawing moviegoers in.

  5. Peemo

    Kevin Smith just did this with his last movie Red State. First, he took the film on the road theater by theater and then last month put it out for all Video On Demand services.

    I’ve heard it’s pretty good too. I’d say defintiely worth the $10.00 to watch it at home. This way, even if it’s not that great I at least wouldn’t have shelled out double that for tickets and popcorn!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “Red State” is one of the best examples of this new, dual release format. “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil” is another great example — I REALLY want to see that one (I think it’s $15.00 though).

      But good point — paying 10 to 15 bucks at home is a hell of a lot better than wasting 20 to 30 at the theater. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by the amount of money I’ve drained into my local theaters on movies that turned out to be crap!

  6. Rachel

    I’m conflicted, too! I really like seeing movies in the theaters, and midnight showings and that sort of thing are great experiences that I would not want to see disappear. And as others have said, it can be lots of fun experiencing a movie with a big group of people and hearing the communal laughter and gasps.

    On the other hand, I’m totally lazy enough to pick the on-demand option over driving to the theater, especially for movies I’m not super excited about seeing but am still interested in. So maybe I would watch more movies if I could do so from home during the theatrical run?

    I can absolutely see the theaters’ point of view on this, though. I kind of don’t want the on-demand option just because I know I (and other consumers) will choose this over theaters in many instances, ultimately taking revenue away from the theaters, even if I still want the theaters to stay. Like Amy said–I want my cake and to eat it, too! 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      It’s definitely a sticky situation. I’ve always been a fan of the theatrical experience in general, but it’s tough to say no to the simplicity of seeing a brand new release from the comfort of my own living room, even if it costs almost as much. I suppose the theaters will just have to up the ante in the next few years and find new ways of drawing the public in. Lowering the prices at the concession stands would be a good way to start.

      • Eric

        Being someone who’s worked on both side of the fence in the industry, concessions are where theaters make most (99-some-odd%) of their money. Either make good friends with a girlfriend with a large handbag, or smuggle ’em in via your “warmest (i.e., bulkiest)” winter coat.

        Just dawned on me that Comcast allows you to watch a film as much as you’d like during your 24-hour rental period…don’t know how a theater could ever beat that, because if I see something I like, especially, I’ll want to give it a second showing.

        • Joseph Giorgi

          Thankfully, my girlfriend has a particularly large handbag. Normally it just sorta takes up space, but it’s ideal for smuggling goods into theaters — that’s for sure. 🙂

    • Amanda

      Yeah, it’s hard to choose one or the other. But I wonder if allowing new movies to be on tv sooner, would lower the rising ticket prices–that would be awesome!

      Some movies–action, horror, etc.–are just better in theater! But comedies, and dramas I’d be just as happy to watch at home.

  7. Jen

    This would be great if you bought the movie on demand and had a party for all your friends to watch it at your place. I think it would be great, it’s a new movie no one has seen and nobody would have to shell out the cash to see it in the theater. WIN!

    I do still love the theater experience though, I don’t ever want that to end, but this would be cheaper for a group of people to it see together.

    Nice post Joe!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Good call! For a one-time fee of 10 or 15 bucks, a potentially huge group of friends could watch a brand new movie on-demand. And if everyone chipped in a dollar or two, it’d basically be dirt cheap. 😀

  8. Jill Tooley

    I’m also torn on this proposal. On one hand, I LOATHE going to the theater because people can’t seem to be quiet (or quiet their screaming babies) for that 1-2 hour period, which means lots of missed dialogue. On the other, there’s something kind of neat about sharing a film with a huge crowd of people. All in all, though, I’d probably be in favor of this distribution model as long as they implemented some sort of waiting period (Mandy’s 2 week suggestion would be adequate, I think). As Jen mentioned, how cool would it be to split the price between friends and enjoy a similar moviegoing experience from the comfort of the couch?

    As far as the controversy goes…we haven’t even begun to see the wrath of those opposed to the idea. Some companies are going to fight this until the bitter end, and I can’t say I blame them. It really would be a shame to see movie theaters decline, but if they put their heads together I’m sure they could come up with a sort of compromise.

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have our cake and eat it too! 😉

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