More calls for earlier release windows

28 October, 2014 by Don Groves

By Christmas at least six Hollywood films will have been released this year on DVD and VoD roughly 90 days after their theatrical premieres, a departure from the traditional 120-day holdback.

Home entertainment retailers and digital platforms believe a further relaxation of release windows is inevitable.

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James Sterling, national purchasing manager for the Civic Video chain, told IF, “Civic is supportive of a reduction in the theatrical window. I have been trying to address a shortened window for some time now. What film is still breaking B.O. records after eight weeks?”

Quickflix executive chairman Stephen Langsford said, “We see the collapsing of windows as an inevitability and one that is good for consumers whilst addressing one of the root causes of piracy: desire for quick access.

“If consumers want a big screen experience they’ll go to the cinema and if they want to stream it or play it on a DVD at home then let them have it at the same time. The game changer will be when the windows are reduced further and the studios really direct their marketing push to the earlier VoD and DVD window.”

Craig White, CEO of VoD and download-to-own platform EzyFlix.tv,  regards earlier access as inevitable and believes 30-45 days after theatrical release should be the target for a new  premium VoD window and pricing.

“Any relaxation of windows is welcomed and warranted to combat piracy and better serve well-meaning consumers," White said. "EzyFlix.tv stands alone among all other local digital retailers because all new release films from every major Hollywood studio will be available earlier for EST."

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was the first US title released in the shorter window after the major chains agreed to lift the 120-day holdback for a limited number of titles, followed by The LEGO Movie and A Million Ways to Die in the West.

But  cinema owners were willing to grant the exemption only for three films from each of the major distributors per year, viewing the initiative as a trial.

Some exhibitors point to the US where the average gap is around 121 days, despite the increase in day-and-date theatrical/digital releases, and question why Australia should move ahead of the US in shortening the window.

Two films which opened in cinemas in September will be released on home entertainment in December to capitalise on the lucrative holiday trading period.

Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue lands in DVD stores and on VoD platforms on December 10, 83 days after its cinema release. Universal’s Step Up 5: All In goes out on December 11, 91 days after theatrical. Roadshow’s The Inbetweeners 2 also ships on December 11, a gap of 104 days.

Sterling said it’s difficult to measure the precise impact of the earlier window on DVD sales and rentals for each title but he observed The LEGO Movie and A Million Ways to Die in the West performed well, unlike the Anchorman sequel.

“I think we will start to see further flexibility around this as suppliers seek faster returns on their investments,” he said. “The three films per major is just the beginning.”

Several Australian films including prison drama Convict, supernatural thriller Foreshadow and teen drama Circle of Lies went to DVD/VoD within weeks of their cinema premieres but they screened at independent cinemas.

Most recently John V Soto’s The Reckoning, which launched on five cinemas on September 4, was released on VoD platforms and on DVD and Blu-ray on September 17.

Entertainment One is trialling the US model of direct-to-digital with the November 21 launch of Tony Mahony and Angus Sampson’s dark comedy The Mule for purchase online, preceded by a week of event screenings attended by Sampson and Hugo Weaving. The title will be released on DVD and Blu-ray and online rental from December 3.
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