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UPDATE: 'Bubble' Pop Not So Big

2 Feb, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

Director Steven Soderbergh's Bubble popped the traditional release window strategy this week. While Magnolia Pictures is tickled at the initial results, other industry watchers are less impressed.

Bubble production company Magnolia — owned by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner — reported week that the drama, via its multi-tiered release strategy, had already grossed $5 million. That includes a $70,664 box office take, DVD orders and “other revenue,” according to the company.

Bubble was released in 32 Landmark Theaters and on HDNet cable channel (both of which are also owned by Wagner and Cuban) Jan. 27. The film streeted on DVD Jan. 31.Cuban touted the first day-and-date release as a “profitable strategy.”

“While the theatrical performance was not as high as we would have liked, it compared favorably to other similar films released over the weekend,” he said.

Bubble had a $2,208 per-screen average, and DVD orders are quadruple expectations, according to Magnolia.

The title reportedly shipped 100,000 units on DVD, which constitutes about half of the company's $5 million estimate, according to Variety. The “other revenue,” according to Variety sources, in part is $250,000 that came from licensing fees HDNet paid its own company to air the movie. Executives from Magnolia were unable to confirm the DVD shipment numbers or licensing fee revenue by press time.

The title hit DVD with a bit of a promotional splash. Best Buy highlighted Bubble in the home entertainment section of its circular for the week.

On the rental side, top chain Blockbuster did not order any copies of Bubble for its stores, said company spokesperson Karen Raskopf, but not because of the simultaneous release strategy.

“We're not carrying the title because we don't think there is going to be much demand for it,” she said. “We have to use our buying resources and shelf space for titles our consumers will want to rent.”

Blockbuster is offering Bubble online, which caters to a different kind of renter, and where there is no shelf-space issue to contend with, Raskopf said.

Overall, Blockbuster doesn't view Magnolia's release strategy as a harbinger, she said.

“DVD retail and rental are by far the ways most people view movies, and we don't envision the studios jeopardizing the window for their biggest revenue generator,” she said.

John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, was even more skeptical.

All Magnolia did was create hype around Bubble and get the media to “drink its Kool-Aid,” he said.

“They have now received tens of millions of dollars of publicity about a picture with a $1.7 million budget,” he said.

The numbers Magnolia is touting don't quite add up, he said.

“The only way they will make $5 million is if Mark Cuban buys all the DVDs himself,” Fithian said.

Magnolia has touted Bubble as a test of simultaneous release strategies, but it's not a viable one, Fithian said.

“You can't use a really small movie like this to test a business model for the entire industry,” he said. “If it's a huge DVD success, well fine. That doesn't prove the model; it proves that this is a picture made for DVD.”

Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital, speaking at a panel discussion last week titled “Can Hollywood Survive the Internet?” said he thinks the day-and-date strategy could expand in about five years for certain films, but Bubble wasn't a good example.“Despite Mark Cuban's protestations, not very many people went out to see or buy Bubble over the weekend,” he said. “In fact, not that many people chose to see it on HDNet either. It just wasn't that compelling a piece of content. If it is a great piece of content, it will work its way through the collapse of the distribution windows. But a lot of product won't.”

Bubble or no Bubble, theatrical windows aren't going anywhere, Fithian contends, pointing out quote after quote from directors and heads of studios who stand firmly against the strategy. An overall simultaneous release strategy would “homogenize the industry, and all movies would start to look the same,” he said.

“We do not believe that simultaneous release is a model that will ever take hold in Hollywood,” Fithian said. “If we are wrong and it did happen, the cinema business would be seriously damaged, the movie industry would generate less revenue and consumers would have reduced choices.”

For its part, last week Magnolia announced it has an slate of about a dozen titles it is considering for simultaneous theater/TV/DVD release.

Additional reporting by Erik Gruenwedel.

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