Driver's EDitorial #13: Theaters will have to adapt to earlier Blu-ray releases


by: Brad Sturdivant

Our Driver’s EDitorial is a weekly column designed to express our opinion on something going on in Hollywood today. Sometimes we whine and complain about something we wish was different, other times we heap praise on the system for getting it right.

The continuing battle of Hollywood studios and theater owners has taken a sharp, hostile turn with studios again testing the waters with earlier home video releases (this time, with CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS coming out digitally).  Hollywood is attempting to grow with their audience, which is demanding newer, fresher content than ever before while theaters are still trying to cling to antiquated business practices that have been dying for years.  The end result is that studios are going to have to protect their products and investments and do what’s right for their customers.  Theaters may not like it, but they will have a chance to grow and adapt to the market if they embrace modern business practices.

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And yes, this editorial is taking a turn for the money/business side of Hollywood, but it’s an important subject and the outcome of this “battle” will affect all movie lovers.  But before we get too far into it, it’s important to understand a little of the history of the disagreement.  For those of you that were around in the early days of VHS, you probably remember that it would take a year or more for a movie to reach VHS after it came out at the theater.  Even at that point, only a select few were available for sale.  As VHS became more popular, that year-long window slowly shrank.  By the time DVD’s came along, the release window was closer to 6-8 months.  But DVD’s grew faster in popularity and studios began to realize they could make serious cash off them, so the window shrunk to what it is today, which is roughly 4 months.

Theater vs Blu-ray 2

So now, studios are more aware that their home video sales are more valuable than ever.  But more importantly, studios know that the only week a movie really pulls in box-office cash is during its opening weekend (there are exceptions).  So add the two together and it makes perfect sense that studios want to shorten that window to take advantage of a movie’s hype and maybe even combine advertising efforts, thus saving them more money.  Oh, and now that digital downloads are starting to gain steam, the push to make movies available is greater than ever.

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But it’s obvious why studios want this, the real question is; what’s going to happen to movie theaters?  Theater owners are afraid that shortening that release window is going to discourage audiences from going to the theater and ultimately, they’ll be out of business.  But over the past 10-15 years, major theaters have made ignorant business decisions that would make automobile manufacturers look like geniuses.  When George Lucas was preaching digital projectors, theaters were scoffing.  Imax, 3D?  If you can find theaters with the capability, good for you.  There’s been minimal investment in technology and the result is that your average American family can afford to buy a home theater system that rivals most movie theaters.

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So where do we go from here?  First, studios should feel free to release Blu-rays within 30 days of a theatrical release.  People are always going to go to the theater and this way, studios and theaters will continue to make the bulk of a film’s profits from the theatrical release.  Second, theater owners are going to have to restructure their business model.  There’s no need to have a theater with 30 screens.  Make the screens bigger, add Imax and 3D, improve the sound and take steps to reduce talking and eliminate annoying cell phones (all with financial investment from Hollywood studios).  But most importantly; theaters are going to have to grow with the industry, not hold it back.

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