By Sarah Sluis
If most city dwellers pay at least $10 for a movie ticket, it would take six people just to equal the price of watching Tower Heist on-demand for $59.99. The fee, which is more than six months of Netflix's streaming services, is part of a test being carried out by Universal and its parent company, Comcast. For that price, viewers can watch the film three weeks after its theatrical release in the comfort of their own homes. But who's buying?
A lot of people don't even have six comfortable seats on their couch, let alone the ability to wrangle so many friends together to watch a movie and share the cost. Do executives at Universal and Comcast expect people will invite friends over to watch the movie? Will couples gather older children (the movie will be rated PG-13) around the television? Will the teens themselves hit the "buy" button to the consternation of their parents? Or will this be a status thing for the people on MTV's "Cribs" with home theatres?
Comcast plans to test the VOD concept in two markets, Atlanta and Portland. Atlanta, with its high population of affluent black citizens and ex-pro sports players, seems like a good fit for the test, especially since Tower Heist has a couple of prominent black cast members (Eddie Murphy and Gabby Sidibe of Precious fame). Portland may be the counterpoint to that test, with a liberal, tech-savvy populace but not as much of a reputation for McMansions. Because the McMansion segment, presumably, has enough money to rent a movie for ten times what it used to cost at Blockbuster.
It's doubtful that Universal and Comcast would release the data from the test, so the best indication of this working would be if this idea of high-priced on-demand continues to flourish. So far, the exhibition industry and NATO have not spoken out on this issue. The audience for high-priced on-demands is probably small. It's hard to see the value proposition in paying so much to see a movie at home when a theatre provides more of a guarantee of good technical specs and an "event"-like experience.
Is this high-priced product intended to figure out the upper limit people will pay to watch a movie? Or is it simply a bit of a bait-and-switch? If the industry plans on offering more reasonably priced, $29.99 on-demands in the future, maybe this is just a way to gain a foothold and flout current windowing guidelines without prompting the ire of the exhibition industry.