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Universal Scuttles Premium VOD ‘Heist’

12 Oct, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Money talks. Facing a boycott by two of the nation’s largest theatrical chains, Universal Studios Home Entertainment Oct. 12 canceled plans to release action comedy Tower Heist in the premium video-on-demand window just 21 days after its theatrical launch.

Universal apparently made the decision not to offer the movie for $59.99 to about 500,000 Comcast homes in Atlanta and Portland, Ore., as part of a test after National Amusements, which operates Showcase Cinemas and is privately owned by Sumner Redstone and family, said it would not screen Heist if it released early on premium VOD. The movie stars Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, among others.

Cinemark, the No. 2 theatrical operator, already said it would boycott the film, including removing in-theatre signage, if Universal went ahead with premium VOD.

“Universal continues to believe that the theater experience and a PVOD window are business models that can coincide and thrive and we look forward to working with our partners in exhibition to find a way to experiment in this area in the future,” USHE said in a statement.

Heretofore, studios have sparingly offered select titles in the premium VOD window six to eight weeks after theatrical launch on DirecTV for $29.99.

The National Association of Theater Owners, which has been adament in its displeasure with premium VOD altering the traditional 90-day theatrical window, hailed the decision.

“NATO would like to thank Universal for responding to various theater owners' concerns and canceling the PVOD test it was contemplating," John Fithian, president and CEO of NATO, said in a statement.

Fithian indicated the trade group would be willing to work with studios regarding altering theatrical windows — a practice that began in April 2010 when Walt Disney Studios yanked then No.1 box office hit Alice in Wonderland early from theaters and released it in the retail channel, including bizarrely rental kiosks.

"NATO recognizes that studios need to find new models and opportunities in the home market, and looks forward to distributors and exhibitors working together for their mutual benefit," Fithian said.

Indeed, NATO and theater operators looked the other way earlier this year when Summit Home Entertainment and Lionsgate released Source Code and Abduction, respectively, early into the premium VOD window.

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