3 indie films leap for quick VOD window

  By Robert Marich
  Oct 15, 2001-Three independent movies with cinema credentials are zipping through theatrical release for immediate run in video-on-demand. Time Warner Cable announced Trespass starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman; Margin Call starring Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore; and Melancholia will hit the VOD window quickly for just $6.99.
   On the other hand, Universal Pictures abandoned a plan on Oct. 12 to place Tower Heist in a $60 VOD window 30 days after theatrical in two test markets, after theaters balked. After 30 days, the thriller Tower Heist would have been still in cinemas.
   The three new VOD films are from independent distributors, while Tower Heist—starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy—is distributed by a major studio. Universal is 51% owned by cable giant Comcast, which no doubt was driving the abandoned VOD plan. The PG-13 rated Tower Heist will premiere in theaters Nov. 4--no word yet on how many theaters.
   My own analysis is that shortening the gap between theatrical and VOD is inevitable, particularly to undercut piracy. But a lag of months, not days or weeks is needed to protect theaters, which have been a reliable release window for Hollywood distributors. Also, the first and early VOD (“premium VOD”) needs to be priced at a high—say $30 or more—and not just $6.99 as the three new VOD entrants seek. Wrestling pay per view events charge that high level, so it’s not a ridiculous price point.
   Box office is surprisingly resilient as it holds steady despite the array of new release windows, so Hollywood would be wise to protect cinemas. By the way, readers should also realize marginal films with little prospects constantly hype a theatrical/VOD window, but the cinema release is almost always miniscule and doesn’t end up being counted among the 550 or so national theatrical releases each year.
   Trespass—which just landed in theaters-- is distributed by Millennium Films, which is an arm of Hollywood filmmaker Avi Lerner who operates several companies including Nu Image. VOD started yesterday simultaneous with theatrical premiere (I can’t find any details on theater count).
LATE ADD Oct 16: BoxOfficeMojo estimates Trespass grossed $18,200 from 10 theaters its opening three-day weekend, which translates to a weak $1,820 per screen from Friday through Sunday.
Margin Call –which BoxOfficeMojo pegs as an Oct. 21 theatrical release-- is distributed by second-tier indie Roadside Attract. However, both these films have theatrical stars and should be considered of cinema-caliber.
   The R-rated Melancholia is from Magnolia Pictures, is scheduled for a Nov. 14 theatrical release and seems a bit arty. Time Warner Cable says Melancholia will be on VOD prior to theatrical premiere (good luck booking good theaters!) Magnolia is a solid second tier indie distributor active in VOD drives because its owners are Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team) and Todd Wagner, though their indie film mini-empire has not been a big money-spinner, by all accounts.
   In an Associated Press interview, Trespass star Cage lamented the fast VOD release but said it is a business decision. Trespass arrives in physical video (DVD) superfast in just two weeks, versus the three month norm.
   “Skip the movie line and watch new movies from the comfort of your home,” says a Time Warner Cable press release touting the fast VOD window. “There's no need to plan ahead or even leave the couch. Just sit back and watch any of the following new films when you want.”
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