News and Analysis
Hollywood’s quest to deliver high-priced, new-release theatrical movies to the home apparently is back on despite numerous failures over the last several years, and strong protests from theater owners.

Bloomberg News reports that several Hollywood studios, including Universal and Warner Bros., are discussing plans with Apple and Comcast to rent movies that have been in the theaters for as little as two weeks. (By example, home viewers could now watch Dunkirk on their living room TVs instead of venturing to the theater.)

If the plan is implemented, the price tag to watch a new movie could be between $30 and $50, Bloomberg writes.

The concept is not new.

In 2011, Universal and Comcast were planning to sell an Eddie Murphy comedy called Tower Heist three weeks after its theatrical debut for $60. Shortly before Tower Heist was released, Universal dropped the plan, noting the numerous protests from theater owners.

Also in 2011, DIRECTV launched ‘Home Premiere’ which charged $29.95 per viewing of movies made available 60 days after their theatrical release, and one month before their DVD or Blu-ray release.

The satcaster soon dropped the service and company CEO Mike White later acknowledged it was too expensive, and that consumer interest in paying premium prices for recent films was “small.”

“They’re priced too high for consumers,” he said. “We didn’t choose that price, but that’s where the studios forced us to be.”

Since those two failures, there have been recurring reports of similar efforts, but apparently nothing as serious as the current discussions with Apple and Comcast. Bloomberg writes that deals could be struck by early next year.

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I believe there is potential here. But the price of the film has to be reasonable. Charging even $30 for a new movie is ridiculous, even with the price of movie tickets rising. And $50? All I can say is: Which executives are passing the crack pipe?

In addition, theater owners have to get a slice of the pie.  The Bloomberg article suggests the theater owners will only get part of the proceeds if they become partners in the concept, and as of now, there’s no indication that will happen because the owners fear eventually losing control of the entire distribution process.

But without those two things in place, both theater owners and consumers will continue to boycott premium VOD films, just as they did in 2011.

— Phillip Swann