Major movie studios continue to take baby steps toward offering new films to cable subscribers via premium on demand while the flicks are still in theaters. The biggest test to date will come in a few weeks, when Comcast will bring the new Eddie Murphy/Ben Stiller potential blockbuster Tower Heist to a pair of test markets just three weeks after it debuts on movie house screens.
Subscribers in Portland, Oregon and Atlanta will have a chance to pay $60 to avoid noisy patrons, expensive concessions stands, and another annoyances that can mar movie-going in the 21st century. Needless to say, theater owners are furious at Universal's decision, even if most movies are in a box-office swoon by the third weekend. According to the Los Angeles Times, theater chains could threaten to not show Tower Heist in the test markets, or boycott the film altogether.
The irony, of course, is that the number of households that actually ponies up the money to watch the film may only total in the dozens, especially considering the price is double that of previous premium on-demand offerings. But what seems to be particularly alarming the theater owners is that the window between theatrical release and on-demand debut in this case has been slashed from 90 days to 21 days, which, if it becomes a trend, could eventually impact their bottom line. Universal says it will compensate those theaters if it appears the test does impact their box-office receipts.
The commotion around these on-demand experiments tends to cloud over the real issue for both studios and theater owners: How to make the movie-going experience enjoyable enough to get people back into the theaters instead of sitting in front of their HDTVs on their comfy sofas. Though $60 added to your cable bill for each new movie you watch may be one way to do it.