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Studios Should Rethink Attitudes on 'Super-releases'

7 Jun, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

The studios may be really down on Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's “super-release” plan, but I think they are leaving money on the table.

Of course the theatrical executives hate the idea. But theatrical releases are becoming less and less relevant to consumers. This year's sagging box office is part of the proof.

It's easy to blame a weak release slate, but there is more to it than that. Part of the problem so far this year is too few ‘G'-rated movies. Each step up the ratings ladder eliminates a segment of the audience. Studios can manage that to some extent with direct-to-video releases on popular kidvid franchises, but that does nothing for box office.

Meanwhile theatrical releases are hitting the box office numbers that rentailers say is their rental sweet spot: $50 million to $80 million. That's also not much help to the studios because it means less sales on DVD as well as at the box office.

But back to super-releases. The studios don't like that plan because they want to milk every cent from every window in the release food chain. You haven't heard a peep out of Flexplay since they released Noel simultaneously in theaters, on disc and cable last November. I have a feeling nobody wants to play with them any more.

What is really short-sighted about this is that dwindling box office numbers prove Cuban and Wagner's point. The studios have to realize they are already getting the most out of their release windows. Box office is down because people just wait for the DVD.

On Memorial Day I was in a local indie store talking to the manager. As he was sorting some returns on the counter, a customer came up and asked him, “Are those the new movies? Can I look?” He glanced at the spines and his face fell. “Oh,” he said, dejectedly. “I want movies that are still in theaters.”

My friends say their kids do more or less the same thing. They see an ad on TV and want the disc now. They don't really care about going to the theater, they just want to watch the stuff they like.

Finally, file traders are absolute proof that people don't want to wait out theatrical windows. You can say they are just downloading stuff because it's free, but I think that's just a studio line to convince lawmakers to give them more copyrights and enforcement. After all, nobody has ever asked them to put their movies where their mouths are and test a superrelease to prove their theory.

With or without the majors, 2929 Entertainment has a plan to do just that, and the marketing muscle to back it up. It's going to be interesting to see if the studio argument holds up, or if it's as stale as movie theater popcorn.

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