Do you have plans tonight? Feel like going out to a movie or just staying in and watching something on cable? For director Steven Soderbergh and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, your answer is irrelevant. They have a movie for busybodies and homebodies alike, and their experiment may help change the way film and television shows are released.
Today is the release date for Bubble, a new film directed by Soderbergh and released by HDNET Films, an upstart film company cofounded by Cuban. Setting Bubble apart from, say, Nanny McPhee and Big Momma’s House 2, two other films debuting on Friday, is that the film will be available in cinemas and on the HDNET cable channel on the same day. What’s more, just four days later, it will be out on DVD. In other words: there will be no “window” between its theatrical release and its availability for home viewing.
The gap between theatrical release and viewership on cable and home video sales has been shrinking steadily for some time. In 1993, the average time between theatrical debut and availability on video was 191 days. By 2003, it had shrunk to 155. Occasionally, poor-performing titles will be rushed to DVD, to capture any remaining interest in them; but Bubble’s release is the first time a film is set for both a theatrical and cable television release.
Soderbergh and Cuban aren’t the only ones compressing that sacrosanct window of time: at the Sundance Film Festival this week, the Independent Film Channel (IFC) announced a program called “First Take”, whereby the company will release 24 films throughout 2006 that will open both in theaters and on on-demand channels available through most cable companies.
Not surprisingly, these simultaneous release dates have riled many in the theater industry. In a press release, John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, argued against eliminating the “$25 billion-plus worldwide theatrical window without a very solid assurance that even more DVD sales will make up for the lost theatrical revenues.”
But theatrical revenues have been diminishing steadily as a percentage of overall revenues for the movie industry. In 1980, 55 percent of industry revenues came from theatrical showings. In 2005, the trend was in full swing: roughly 85 percent of revenues came from home video sales. As a result, the time before a home-video release has shrunk, as DVD revenues have encompassed more and more of the movie industry’s overall revenues and profits. And, of course, studios are rushing to collect those home video sales.