Don’t look now, but Fox is once again trying to shorten the window between when a film plays in a theater and when it hits home video.
The studio, along with a small coalition of others, tried offering new releases through a VOD service just two months after their theatrical release last year. The idea failed – primarily because theater owners weren’t thrilled with the notion of people knowing they could watch movies at home just eight weeks after they appeared in theaters. The studio has now gone back to the drawing board and have crafted a new plan – one they’ll begin implementing with the release of Prometheus.
Fox's new strategy, dubbed Digital HD (DHD for short), offers high definition versions of films as digital copies weeks before the DVD and Blu-ray is available. Even better news is that these early releases (which have previously run $20) will now be available for $15.
The move is part of a plan to revive flagging home video sales – an issue the studios have been struggling with in recent years. Sales peaked at around $21.8 billion in 2004 but have fallen to $18.4 billion last year. That’s a significant drop – but the home video business still seems pretty robust by those measures.
What’s more interesting is that the move could signal that the old-guard media companies are finally ready to start joining the rest of us in the 21st century when it comes to distribution. Audiences are comfortable with digital media – we stream movies on Netflix, buy things on iTunes, and download video games from a variety of services like Steam. It’s time for the studios to get hip to the power of technology and embrace it instead of fighting a losing battle against pirates and torrent sites.
Fox has made a good choice in choosing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus to launch the new venture. While the film was a solid box office performer earlier this summer, it’s the kind of title that should have a built-in home video audience. Getting the HD digital version out on September 18 will likely attract viewers who are too impatient to wait for the October 11 Blu-ray and DVD launch.
Digital sales of films are a relatively minor drop in the bucket when it comes to overall revenue, but figures are trending upwards. Numbers for the first half of this year show that digital sales have accounted for $329.4 million, which is up from $270.3 million in the same period of 2011. Who knows how much larger those numbers might be if studios actually made their classic libraries and other things available?
The other relatively big news in this announcement is that Fox will now support UltraViolet. UltraViolet is sort of like a “digital locker” that stores your movies and allows for playback on any of your media devices from one centralized location. The studio has long been interested in joining, but held off over concerns about how the system worked. Those concerns have now apparently been addressed.
Fox is hoping that everyone comes out of this new experiment happy – they think that moving the window on digital releases up from the DVD date (and not making it so close to the theatrical window – the biggest flaw of last year’s plan) should be acceptable to theater owners. They’re also banking that consumers will love early access to big new movies at a relatively affordable price. It’s too soon to tell if that will truly be the case, but we think they might be on to something. At the very least, this seems to be another step toward more video-on-demand viewing options for movie fans.
Will you take advantage of this program when it launches later this month or are you more likely to just wait for the physical release and buy that instead?
[via The New York Times]