'Tower Heist' director Brett Ratner criticized early VOD in April
This post has been updated. Please see note at bottom for details.
Brett Ratner appears to have had a change of heart when it comes to movies getting an early video-on-demand release shortly after opening in theaters.
The director's upcoming action-comedy "Tower Heist" will be released by Universal Pictures through video-on-demand in two test cities, Atlanta and Portland, Ore., just three weeks after it hits theaters on Nov. 4, at a premium price of $59.99.
In April, Ratner was one of 23 prominent directors and producers to sign an open letter critical of early VOD that was distributed by the National Assn. of Theatre Owners trade group. Theaters have vigorously opposed the practice in the past out of concern that it will cut into movie ticket sales. At the time, four studios including Universal were preparing to offer some movies 60 days after their theatrical release via video-on-demand for $30 through DirecTV.
Though the letter did not rule out a test like the one Universal is planning for "Tower Heist," it defended current "windows" that put a distance of at least 90 days between a film's theatrical and home entertainment releases. The following are excerpts from the letter, whose signers also included Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Jackson and Michael Mann:
We in the creative community feel that now is the time for studios and cable companies to acknowledge that a release pattern for premium video-on-demand that invades the current theatrical window could irrevocably harm the financial model of our film industry...
The problem of declining revenue in home video will not be solved by importing into the theatrical window a distribution model that cannibalizes theatrical ticket sales...
As leaders in the creative community, we ask for a seat at the table. We want to hear the studios' plans for how this new distribution model will affect the future of the industry that we love. And until that happens, we ask that our studio partners do not rashly undermine the current -- and successful -- system of releasing films in a sequential distribution window that encourages movie lovers to see films in the optimum, and most profitable, exhibition arena: the movie theaters of America.
Asked to comment by The Times, a spokeswoman for Ratner issued the following statement: "Brett was made aware of Universal's paid video-on-demand experiment with 'Tower Heist' yesterday. [He] was told that the studio is fully protecting the theater owners against losses at the box office. Brett did not participate in the planning of this test."
-- Ben Fritz
[For the record, 6:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this post contained an opinion from a person close to Ratner. It was replaced with the statement from the director's spokeswoman.]
Photo: Brett Ratner. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times.