May 16, 2013

VoD: See Movies Before Cinema


First there was “same day as DVD,” then there was “same day as cinema,” now there’s a “before theater” option for movie lovers that want to see a short list of non-blockbuster, relatively low-budget titles by renting them from Comcast Corp.’s video-on-demand (VoD) library.

The ability to rent movies before they hit cinemas represents a new and fresh wrinkle to VoD designs to help these libraries better compete with movie services in the areas of affordability and variety, without the expense of the in-theater experience.

Now Showing!

In Comcast’s greater Boston market, viewers can pay $9.99 for a two-day rental of such titles asErased, The English Teacher, Syrup, Shadow Dancer, 33 Postcards, The Guillotines and more (current and recent). That’s barely the price of one adult evening ticket and gets you many flicks that have already debuted at film festivals here and abroad.

The top question on the revenue front is whether movie fans, who aren’t always swayed by overhyped, under delivering star-driven titles, will fork over the $9.99, or wait until the movie hits the cinemas and pay $4 less to see it in a month’s time as it switches to the same-day-as-cinema and/or new movies tiers.

For this new pay VoD movie wrinkle to potentially be a significant part of the overall VoD complexion, operators such as Comcast will need to offer far more than a handful of movie titles, which requires big work with movie studios, and then promote this option widely and aggressively outside its VoD silo.

Think Positive

Since these before-cinema movies typically have debuted at movie festivals around the world before they hit this category, they have already been reviewed and can be researched at sites like www.imdb.com . As a result, companies don’t have to spend the megabucks they do with huge budget movies on TV ads and movie tours. Better yet, you aren’t buying movies “sight unseen.”

Huge budgets, big stars and heavily promoted titles certainly don’t ensure viewer satisfaction at any price. That’s largely the case for endless sequels, and prequels, along with remakes that closely follow the original plot. By contrast, movies from film festivals and small-name movie houses have amassed a solid following that appears to be growing steadily in response.

Optimal Prime?

Regardless, pay-VoD has been and still is under attack on seemingly all fronts by host of alternative movie options, among them Netflix and Redbox, as well as Amazon Prime, which allows you to watch many of the same before-theater titles cited above immediately, for the same price and occasionally for a three-day period. Don’t forget YouTube and its movie service plans.

With its $1.20-ish a night movie rentals from automated kiosks, Redbox helped redefine the physical rental space and is especially popular with young demographics and other fans who typically don’t subscribe to a pay-TV service or do (basic cable), but don’t pay for any of the several “movie channel” options.

The Bottom Line

What if movie studios and distribution partners, such as Comcast, could make more money at the end of the day from low-budget movies offered before any cinema appearance than bloated-budget, expensively marketed movies that drew so-so audiences in the theater?

It’s all about the bottom line. Theaters, at least in the U.S., are an ever declining factor in the movie viewing ecosystem. Been to one lately? We’ve seen what happens when the bottom line of a movie viewing experience all but eliminates an established option. Drive-ins are a solid example. Retail sales of single-movie DVDs have long been fading.

And where did all the two-screen cinemas go? If you see one, check out the movies that are showing. They are more likely to be Comcast’s pre-theater titles and lesser known flicks then today’s break-the-bank-to-make-and-market movies, which likely don’t merit a cinema visit. I’m talking about the same titles that are available earlier than you think from Redbox machines and subscription streaming services.




Edited by Jamie Epstein



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