Windows — those periods of time a motion picture (defined as a movie or television show) are available for viewing via a specific media — are sacred in Hollywood. Each window provides a certain type of revenue stream. Using movies as an example, the dollars flow more-or-less in the following order: theater, non-theatrical venues (airplanes, for example), pay-per-view, home entertainment (DVD is the pre-eminent source here), regular pay television like HBO, network television, various international television markets, domestic syndication (for those who like to watch their TV on Saturday afternoons), and a never-ending stream of subsequent television sales.
As we’ve seen with product developed for the network market, some products are being released (almost) concurrently with the network window. This is causing all sorts of heart palpitations among the traditional set — windows are set and shouldn’t be toyed with.
Which is why there’s more than a little gloating that, for perfectly logical reasons, the window-free release pattern for Steven Soderbergh’s new movie Bubble is being viewed as less-than-successful. Except for those who view it as a huge win for the new world. Soderbergh partnered with Internet-savvy Mark Cuban’s 2929 pictures, and the product was licensed to a range of media concurrent with the theatrical release, including the Landmark theater chain.
Though an experiment in breaking windows, the film suffered from short-sighted attitudes of established theater chains:
While the film’s box-office performance was modest because major theater chains refused to run it, the film’s backers declared victory for their release strategy.
Considering that more viewers than ever are staying home from theaters, the fears of the theater chains are understandable. But, considering that more viewers than ever are staying home from theaters, it makes sense that content providers would capitalize on advertising dollars by hitting all media types at once. Another consideration for both theater owners and content providers is the fact that there is not necessarily crossover when it comes to theater-going audiences and DVD-viewing audiences. Why penalize one group in favor of another?
It is a matter of time before the next day-and-date release comes from major studio. The next time, it probably won’t be a small-budget film aimed toward a limited audience. Then the question of whose gloating now will become a Hollywood game.