Comcast is testing the release of movies on settop boxes at the same time they are released on DVD, according to The New York Times. The tests are being conducted in Pittsburgh and Denver. The big winners in such a system? Consumers, Comcast and the movie studios. Potential losers include Blockbuster, Netflix, retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart and premium movie networks such as HBO and Showtime.
Movie studios have typically followed staggered release windows in an attempt to maximize the revenue generated by a movie. Movies follow a long path: first-run theaters, second-run theaters, DVD, pay-per-view, pay movie channels, network TV. Although these windows have shortened considerably in the last few years, they are still in widespread use.
With simultaneous release, consumers win with greater flexibility. On the day the DVD is released, they can now buy the DVD, rent the DVD from a video store or Netflix, or watch it on their set top box.
Blockbuster is clearly feeling the heat. From the Times story:
Blockbuster, which could be hurt by the success of simultaneous release, said that the sales and rentals of DVDs represent the largest revenue stream for the studios and “we believe that they will be very cautious in introducing any new less profitable service that could be cannibalistic to the rental and retail channel.”
Target made similar overtures when Disney started selling movies on iTunes.
Video-on-demand is the future of movie consumption; it will make the assinine HD-DVD vs BluRay battle moot. As iTunes, YouTube and even the TV networks’ Web sites have shown, people want to watch what they want when they want.
VOD still needs some tinkering:
- Comcast’s interface for selecting movies is terrible. It’s bad enough now when the selection is limited; it clearly won’t work when you have tens of thousands of movies.
- Movies must be watched within 24 hours of purchase. This should be expanded to 72 hours.
- Movies disappear when their pay per view window is over. After that you either have to get the DVD or try to catch it on a premium network.
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