Cinemark theater chain to ban 'Tower Heist' over premium VOD plan
Cinemark, the nation's third-biggest movie theater chain, said Thursday it will not play the upcoming Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy "Tower Heist" in any of its 300 locations if Universal Pictures goes ahead with a plan to release it on premium video-on-demand just three weeks after the film premieres in theaters.
The bold move would deprive Cinemark of a substantial share of what's sure to be tens of millions, and potentially more than $100 million, in box office for "Tower Heist." It also calls into question whether the studio will go ahead with the plan and risk losing millions as well.
On Wednesday, news broke that Universal will make "Tower Heist" available in Atlanta and Portland, Ore., for $59.99 via video-on-demand following its Nov. 4 debut. The test would be the biggest step forward in the controversial premium video-on-demand business that any Hollywood studio has taken.
People close to Universal said that top executives informed Cinemark and other theater chains of its VOD strategy this week after more than a year of discussions on the topic. It appears that Universal chairman Adam Fogelson and his team had hoped that the theater chains would feel included in the process and decide that their business was not threatened due to the limited nature of the "Tower Heist" test, which would be available in about 500,000 homes.
But Cinemark, which operates about 3,800 screens in the U.S., is sticking with its fierce opposition to the premium VOD business. It and the two larger exhibitors, AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment, last spring waged a public battle against a premium VOD test by four studios, including Universal, that made movies available -- for $29.99 -- 60 days after their debut in theaters.
Those companies believe that making movies available to watch at home sooner than 90 days after the premiere encourages consumers to not go out and buy tickets.
"Cinemark recognizes and acknowledges the changing technological landscape and related challenges that Universal and the other studios are facing in the in-home window," the company said in a statement. But that recognition apparently was not enough to support the test.
"Cinemark has urged Universal Pictures to reconsider its market test of this product," the statement continued. "If Universal Pictures moves forward with its 'Tower Heist' premium video-on-demand offering as announced, Cinemark has determined, in its best business interests, that it will decline to exhibit this film in its theatres."
A Universal spokeswoman declined to comment. AMC and Regal have yet to disclose their reactions to the "Tower Heist" VOD plan.
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures