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A World Without Windows

25 Jun, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Bold moves are conspicuously absent in this business, but I wonder what would happen if some studio abolished windows and released everything on the same date theatrically, on home video and on pay-per-view.

We're already headed in that direction. Theatrical-to-video windows have shrunken from a norm of six months to an average of four months, while most big releases wind their way onto PPV about 30 days after their video debut.

What's more, research — and, to a lesser extent, experience — suggests theatrical and video are two distinct audiences. I need only point to Universal's Lost in Translation strategy, in which the film came to video while it was still in theaters. Granted, the theatrical run was extended by awards buzz, but the result is still pretty phenomenal: 600-screen expansion and 1.5 million DVDs sold — all during the exact same time frame.

So what would happen if everything went day-and-date? My hunch: A moderate increase in overall revenue, but a much-faster payoff — and significantly lower marketing costs because studios would only have to fund one campaign, not two or three.

And for a film like Spider-Man 2 or Shrek 2, the overall combined theatrical, DVD and PPV payoff could be significantly higher if all three platforms came to market at the same time. Kids would race to the theater to see Spider-Man 2 on the big screen, and then stop at Wal-Mart or Best Buy on the way home to buy the DVD so they can see it again. Studios would get the chance to strike twice while the proverbial iron's hot.

A same-day pay-per-view showing would simply give consumers a third option. And please don't float that old argument that PPV hurts video. B.S. If anything, under the current structure, PPV helps video by rekindling interest 30 or 60 days after the video is out. Watch the movie on PPV and if you really like it, you'll head out and buy it or rent it. A PPV screening has become almost like an infomercial.

Will a world without windows ever become a reality? Six months ago, I would have said no, it's too radical a concept. But you know what? Six months ago I never would have guessed that movies as well as videos typically earn 40 percent, or even more, of their total revenue their first week out.

We're in the Age of Frontloading. So we might as well put everything we've got into it.

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