Is Skipping Theatrical Really 'Visionary'?

By Robert Marich

   Sept. 7, 2009 – It seems anyone with a difficult-to-market movie falls back to cheap distribution via video-on-demand or ad-supported online stream while they proclaim themselves as “visionary” and “innovative.”
   Starz Animation, the cartoon arm of the premium pay TV channel service, is the latest example as it rolls out The Haunted World of El Superbeasto this week in video on demand in advance of a token theatrical release Sept. 12. It’s suggested the animated, R-rated movie will play on 50 screens, which is not enough to land on the radar of the cinema film trackers. The VOD version is priced at $6.99, which is about $2 above regular VOD pricing.
   Elsewhere, a fashion industry drama Rage--which sports an all-star cast with Jude Law, Judi Dench, Diane Wiest and Steve Buscemi—is going be a web series premiere Sept. 21, followed by DVD release the following day. The film had played in film fests earlier (fest screenings are not counted as commercial premieres).
   Earlier, Paramount shuffled Jackass 2.5 to free streaming, DVD and electronic sell through, proclaiming it was innovating with the low-budget, low brow youth production.
    The reality is these and other titles that sidestep cinema are simply judged not good economic bets for $15 million+ theatrical marketing campaigns. Now if the next Harry Potter and Spider-Man movies go VOD first, that would be innovative! But they won’t because Hollywood realizes the sequential distribution for films creates a series of paydays that, all the while, whet audience interest.

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