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Summary:

The time lag between DVD release dates and the availability of films on cable video-on-demand services has been drastically reduced over the past year, falling from an average of 21 days in 2009 down to just five days in the first half of this year.

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The time lag between DVD release dates and the availability of films on cable video-on-demand services has been drastically reduced over the past year, falling to just five days in the first half of this year, according to BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield. Not only has the window collapsed, but the vast majority of film titles are now being released on cable VOD the same day-and-date that they’re available in stores.

In 2006, the typical window between DVD and VOD release was 30 days, with some titles lasting up to 45 days before they became available. As recently as 2009, the average wait between DVDs hitting shelves and films being available on VOD was still 21 days. So why has the DVD-to-VOD window suddenly collapsed?

Greenfield believes it’s happening because Hollywood studios have begun to worry less about protecting DVD sales and more about protecting rental economics from the likes of Netflix and Redbox. While Netflix offers consumers unlimited DVD-by-mail rentals for as little as $8.99 a month, and Redbox rents DVDs for just $1 a day, VOD prices are typically $4.99 for a title in standard definition and $5.99 in HD. As a result, Greenfield writes:

“VOD has far better economics (profitability) on a per unit basis than Netflix or Redbox offer the studios, not to mention traditional rental stores such as Blockbuster. In addition, day and date VOD offers even better economics than traditional (windowed) VOD, with 70% of the $4.99 (SD) or $5.99 (HD) rental fee going to the studio, compared to 60% for windowed VOD releases.”

Not just that, but consumers are showing less and less willingness to buy physical media. With the vast and growing proliferation of rental avenues, the importance of owning a DVD is dwindling. As Greenfield writes, the “only movies where Hollywood is maintaining a window before a DVD’s release are successful kids/family titles and certain Blockbuster titles (Avatar), with the nearly all other films going day-and-date.” As a result, even Paramount, which held fast with a four-week DVD-to-VOD window a year ago, will only have a one-week window when Iron Man 2 is released on DVD next month.

Given the better economics of VOD rentals and the dwindling interest in DVD purchases anyway, it makes sense for studios to begin offering VOD releases day-and-date with DVD sales. However, the one thing that doesn’t make sense, at least to Greenfield, is why more studios aren’t creating windows for DVD and VOD sales before their titles are available through Netflix or Redbox. He writes:

“What drives us nuts is how certain studios (Disney, Paramount and Sony) allow Redbox and Netflix to offer their content day-and-date with a DVD’s release, but put a window on VOD (see our blog from 6/2, click here related to renting Alice in Wonderland). If one believes that a VOD window is still necessary on key films (such as Alice for Disney, Iron Man 2 for Paramount and Karate Kid for Sony), why in the world would those same studios let consumers rent it via Redbox and Netflix on the same day the DVD is released for sale?”

Greenfield points out that Disney’s Toy Story 3 will be available at Redbox kiosks for a dollar rental on the day the DVD is released, but won’t be available for $5 or $6 VOD rental until later. Conversely, Universal’s Despicable Me is being released on DVD on December 14, but won’t be available on Redbox, Netflix or VOD until after the holidays, which means the only way to get the disc is to buy it or rent it from Blockbuster. While there will no doubt be a ton of families that purchase Toy Story 3 for their kids, the studio is probably not getting the maximum value for its release.

While in the long term, the economics of pushing VOD and de-emphasizing DVD sales makes sense, there’s still some pain ahead for studios as consumer behavior changes. DVD sales have been a cash cow for the studios over the last several years, and it will be difficult for them to replace the loss of revenue from declining sales with increased VOD volume.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kenneth Lu.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: For Hollywood, The VOD Price Is Right (subscription required)

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  3. What surprises me is how expensive VOD is in comparison to Netflix and RedBox. And the rationale for this is what? With VOD, there’s no physical item to make and distribute. The pricing for VOD should be less than, not more than Netflix and RedBox. The studios would still be making more money off of competitively priced VOD since their cut of the price would still be larger. Heck, they could make VOD cheaper than RedBox and still make more from it than RedBox. And lowering the price of VOD will increase demand for it. If VOD is the route that studios want to go, they need to read up on marketplace economics and how price affects demand.

    1. “And the rationale for this is what?”

      VOD has always been a premium item. Always has cost more than it should. Your cable company makes it seem like it’s doing you a favor. So get people conditioned to the cost, then make it the only mechanism to get a new movie. Then squeeze Netflix and Apple so VOD via a wired packet pipe is priced similarly. The comparison the studios would like, for better or worse, isn’t between VOD and a BD/DVD, it’s VOD and a theater ticket.

  4. The studios are intelligently testing various release windows in order to figure out a model that makes the most sense for them. There are competing forces and it is important to recognize that Netflix and Redbox are often buying the DVD content at full price without returns, whereas the VOD providers are only sharing revenue based on the number of times that consumers actually watch a particular vod movie. Essentially, Netflix or Redbox may buy large amounts of inventory for certain titles, guaranteeing studios revenues upfront regardless of actual consumer demand whereas the revenue potential for void is limited by actual consumer demand.

  5. David H. Deans Friday, August 20, 2010

    Ryan, you said “there’s still some pain ahead for studios as consumer behavior changes” — this is an understatement, in my opinion.

    As a prior cable TV subscriber that switched to Netflix (supplemented with broadcast TV), we’re no longer awaiting “new release” video content. Instead, our Netflix queues of DVDs and Instant Play (VOD) is focused on good content (per our interest preferences).

    Frankly, I’m not willing to pay extra to get new content sooner, knowing that much of the new stuff is crap (from my perspective). Granted, I may not be a “mainstream” consumer, but isn’t that the point the studios are missing?

    When people finally have a choice, only then does market fragmentation and customer segmentation really become an issue. Studios aren’t in sync with the behavioral change because they are in denial — believing there is one customer type, a mass-market consumer.

    In contrast, Netflix caters to the needs of the individual — especially those with eclectic interests in content that don’t fit the mold of simplistic legacy market segmentation.

  6. Do you think this ties into Steve Jobs logic in not adding Blu Ray to any of Apple’s product line? Steve at least seems to think that either consumers will use stand alone Blu Ray players, or possibly that the only long term future for content delivery is online.

    And yes, Blu Ray does offer significantly better quality, but that has to be balanced against the convenience of online delivery.

    1. “And yes, Blu Ray does offer significantly better quality, but that has to be balanced against the convenience of online delivery.”

      And the previous battle was vinyl/CD vs mp3 and it is clear which won the mass market. Yes, that’s Steve’s point, convenient delivery of 90% quality without taking up physical storage space will trump other delivery methods and quality.

  7. And how does Ultraviolet (http://www.uvvu.com/)fit into this? I believe most major studios are on board. Read the Ultraviolet website… it is made mostly for the purchasing consumer in mind.

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  9. I’m not quite familiar with that in usa but when they talk about VOD is this only cable-related? Or does this alos affect streaming VOD (like netflix offers it)?

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