Movie studios ‘making progress’ on theatrical window collapse, Warner Bros. studio boss says

Getting movies into home consumption faster has been a lightning-rod topic in the movie distribution business.

In a move that could impact the transactional video business of operators like Comcast, Warner Bros. movie studio chief Kevin Tsujihara said “progress” is being made toward putting theatrical films into the home entertainment window soon after release.

“We’re aggressively working with exhibitors to talk about models that will grow the market instead of cannibalizing the market,” Tsujihara told investors Tuesday during the fourth-quarter earnings call for his parent company, Time Warner Inc.

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On average, it takes about 90 days from the time a movie debuts at the local multiplex to when it becomes available for purchase in the transactional window on services like Vudu, Amazon, iTunes and Xfinity On Demand. 

Collapsing the theatrical window and getting movies into home consumption faster has been a lightning-rod topic in the movie distribution business for more than a decade, with theater chains vehemently opposed to the idea.

However, Tsujihara and other studio executives argue that theatrical distribution has become dominated by big “tentpole” releases—highly promoted, broadly targeted, CGI-heavy films, such as those based around comic-book characters. More narrowly targeted, mid- and small-budget features—most notably those targeted to older movie consumers—tend to get lost in the noise.

Studio chiefs argue it's much easier to advertise to and engage these adult audiences in the place where they spend most of their entertainment time—in the living room. 

“The middle of the market in the theatrical business has gotten extremely tough,” said Tsujihara, adding that shifting these films into the home entertainment window earlier would “change the economics of adult dramas.” 

Besides Warner Bros., Comcast’s Universal Pictures division is said to be interested in an earlier home-release model, as is Apple’s iTunes store.

According to Variety, a model being proposed is one in which movies would become available in the home entertainment window for 48-hour rental around 17 days after theatrical release with a cost of around $50.

“It’s about giving consumers what they want,” Tsujihara said. “If we don’t give it to them, they’re going to go to pirated versions.”