Theaters to pull "Tower Heist" over early VOD release


Movie theaters are drawing a line in the sand over Universal Pictures’ plans to offer its upcoming Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy on premium VOD just three weeks after it opens in theaters. This week, a number of independent theater chains including Sherman Oaks, CA-based Galaxy Theatres, Regency Theatres in Calabasas, CA and Emagine Theatres of Detroit, vowed not to play the movie in any of their locations if Universal proceeds with its plans for the early release.

Additionally, many small cinema houses representing 50 screens around the country have also refused to book the movie. Cinemark USA, the nation’s third largest theater chain, also said last week it would not show the movie on any of its 3,800 screens unless Universal reconsidered its VOD plans.

“We just feel it’s a time to draw a line in the sand,’’ said Rafe Cohen, president of Galaxy Theatres, which operates 106 screens in California, Washington, Nevada and Texas, told The LA Times. “This is virtually a simultaneous release that we don’t think will be helpful to anyone. We’re standing on principle that it’s best to preserve the theatrical window.”

Last week, Universal said it would make “Tower Heist,“ which opens in theaters 11/4, available to about 500,000 homes in two markets, Atlanta and Portland, OR, for $59.99 via VOD.

Universal execs have tried to assure theater owners that the “Tower Heist” VOD release would be a test and briefed theaters in advance of their plans.

The theater industry, of course, fears that releasing movies in the home less than 90 days after their opening in theaters sets a bad precedent and will eventually encourage consumers to stay at home, rather than heading to the theaters.

“We certainly support Cinemark,’’ said Lyndon Golin, Regency CEO, which operates 150 screens. “If their position is they won’t run it, then we won’t run it either. Movies shown in the home on such a short window is a dagger to our business.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We do think the theaters will stick together on this. The industry has to hold its ground, because, yes, a good number of theater goers will just see the movies at home if they know the window is only three weeks out, per se. And wow–$60 to see a VOD movie at home—that’s quite a test.