Saturday, October 22, 2011

Staring Contest: Universal Brilliantly Blinks

TOWER HEIST movie poster 2 image

Tower Heist is a Universal Studios film coming out November 4 staring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, and some other fine folks. From the trailers, it actually looks pretty good. But that's not what this article is about. 

Universal kinda threw down the gauntlet to movie theaters over this movie. See, then announced that three weeks after Tower Heist was released to theaters they were going to make it available for streaming on Comcast's Video on Demand.

The theaters went ballistic. Chain after chain announced that they weren't going to carry Tower Heist at all.

And hence the staring contest. Universal dared the studios to react but when the studios did... they backed down. They blinked. Universal announced that it was cancelling its streaming plans.

Universal's move, while it might seem cowardly, was really brilliant. Although they appear to have lost they actually earned themselves a boatload of free advertising for their movie by making Tower Heist a news story before its release.

Additionally, Universal fired a "flare" at movie theaters, feeling them out and testing their position. The fact that movie theaters reacted so strongly is clearly a sign that they feel threatened. When, in reality, they had no reason to be. Let's be frank - three weeks after a film is released in theaters it's a dead product. 90% of the people who are going to see the movie in the theaters have already seen it at that point. Add to that the fact that Universal was going to charge the RIDICULOUS price of $59.99. Who's going to pay $60 to see a movie when you could take an entire family of four to the movie theater or buy three DVDs for less? Heck, that would pay for five months or so of Netflix (for now). In addition, the streaming movie was only going to be available in Portland and Atlanta, not the entire country. 

Ultimately, this battle will be won by the studios. Just as movie theaters acted in unison, studios will also act in unison. Already four other studios tried to start up talks with DirecTV to make their movies available 60 days after their theatrical release. What are movie theaters going to do when all of the studios do this? Refuse to show any movies? They've got a losing hand and they know it.

So maybe you'd better go out and watch Tower Heist in the theater. Because someday you'll want to tell your grandchildren about the ancient time when you actually had to get in the car and drive to see a new movie release. They'll think it's really strange. Like video rental stores.

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