Spurred by iTunes recent success offering television programming for download, Hollywood is jumping into online movie distribution. Movielink and Cinemanow both announced deals with studios this week to start allowing internet sales day and date with the DVD release for films including King Kong and Memoirs of a Geisha. Studio press releases herald the move as groundbreaking. Unfortunately, the downloads will be more expensive than the DVDs and the viewing options will be highly restricted via DRM technology. Mac users are also left out of the equation, presumably because Apple is about to launch is own iTunes movie store. (Apple partner, Disney was conspicuously absent from the announcements.)
Movielink CEO Jim Ramo tells Indiewire, "The studios are embracing the internet as a viable distribution platform for their movies, and providing this service will also help to convert internet pirates into legitimate customers." Over time, Ramos statement will prove true. But the unbalanced pricing doesnt seem like a fair test of the viability of online distribution. If given the option between paying $30 for a download (which takes 90 minutes and can only be played on a limited number of machines) or $20 for a DVD (which can be played and copied at will), which would you choose? The high prices will also likely encourage geeks to work around the DRM technology out of sheer principle. We love to hate Hollywood, after all.
While the details of the experiment are less than ideal, the studios baby steps into online distribution should teach them something about what viewers want and help lead the way toward more options for consumers. Ramo has this part right: I am not sure what technology will proliferate or be dominant but it all looks like the consumer wants to have specific content curated for them and also available to them when and where they want it. The technology is more of a convenience and also acts as a way for the smaller companies to compete with the larger studios without the same outlay of money.
The latter part of Ramos statement is what really makes day and date distribution worldchanging. Its the Long Tail theory in action. Digital distribution (particularly across multiple platforms) levels the playing field for smaller films, making them available to audiences who might not otherwise have access. Independent and foreign films are typically released in just a few theaters in major metropolitan areas. These releases are supported by geographically targeted marketing campaigns. The rest of us often dont even know these films exist. By the time the DVD comes out, most of the marketing dollars have been spent. To maximize on investment, the advertising is again targeted only toward major cities. A day and date release across multiple platforms allows for the same marketing dollars to be spread across more markets, bringing the film to a wider audience.
Small films like Caveh Zahedis I am a Sex Addict have a lot to gain from a day and date release strategy. As part of their new First Take initiative, IFC is releasing the film on a limited number of theatrical screens simultaneously with cable video on demand (VOD) through their partnership with Comcast. Unfortunately, I am a Sex Addict has been caught in the middle of a battle between day and date pioneer and Landmark Theaters owner, Mark Cuban, and Comcast. Because Comcast has refused to carry Cubans HDNet cable stations, Cuban is refusing to show Zahedis film. In a public conversation on Zahedis blog, Cuban explains that he doesnt want to use his theater chain as a marketing tool for the competition. He says that the theaters (and IFC) dont stand to make much money from the theatrical release of Sex Addict but that the limited run in theaters will bring a lot of value to Comcast, who gets to advertise that they have a film available via VOD while its still in theaters. And since Landmark is pretty much the only chain that will show day and date movies, he doesnt want to be used as a pawn by the competition. I have to say that while I understand Cubans reasoning, I do find it a bit ironic that as the most vocal proponent of the day and date release strategy, he is limiting access to Sex Addict. Cuban goes so far as to ask Zahedi to encourage all of his friends to call Comcast and demand that they carry HDNet movies. In the end, the controversy on Zahedis increasingly popular blog and the building press around it will likely benefit I am a Sex Addict. Cuban is a savvy guy and I would be surprised if he didnt realize this. Cuban and Zahedi both stand to gain from stirring up this controversy on their blogs. And thats good for the future of day and date releases, independent films and the people who love them.
want to see hollywood movies
is it just me or was this post given more than its fair share of real estate? the last paragraph contained the punchline and all i needed to know... at first i waa like... whats with Worldchanging relaying consumer pricing details and namedropping corporatations? wait wait, am i on engadget or wired? then i was like... o i see, fair conclusion i guess.
but now i can't help but think: Jamais! say it ain't so!!11 :(
Since the MovieLink / Cinema Now deals this week, most of the commentary has been how the pricing is too high and the DRM restrictions unworkable. There is truth in these critcisms but, as a heavy user of MovieLink, I think people will find that eventually the service will evolve into a very workable model. I say this because the rental side of their business, which has been around for about two years now, the pricing has come down as the volume of downloads has gone up. It is possible to get a thirty day rental for $.60 and I would guess my average rental fee is about $2.00. That can be contrasted with an average of around $4.00 that I was paying back in the early days. Additionally, although the rental restrictions have not changed, I would suspect that the DRM will. If people are unfairly restricted from using content and as a result don't buy downloads, or hack the DRM, MovieLink will have to react.
It is my great hope that people will support these sites and help encourage to movie industry to move more and more content to the web. If they do, there will be fewer people driving around the roads, fewer plastics stamped out of dirty factories and, most importantly, more content on the sites. As noted in the above post, my hope is that sites like MovieLink will come to appreciate the "Long Tail" of movie distribution and start putting older and less viewed movies out on the web. Presently, the libraries on these sites is thin and is mostly comprised of failed recent releases. But as more revenue is generated by the sites, the movie companies will see the benefit of releasing the more valuable properties presently being sold into other distribution channels.
i like gilrs