Beyond commanding increased ticket revenue from moviegoers, the 3D format has been pushed by the film industry as a means of inoculating the traditional theatrical release model.
The assumption: Consumers will eschew their ever-improving home entertainment systems and actually go to a theater again if you can provide them a value-add like 3D. But as the uneven performance of premium-priced 3D theatrical releases has shown over the last few years, that assumption hasn’t always proven correct. Meanwhile, the install base of 3D TV sets is actually growing.
So, for the first time ever this weekend, a release window for a 3D movie is going to collapse, with the Weinstein Company’s tongue-in-cheek horror sequel, Piranha 3DD, getting released through both cable/satellite and internet VOD on the same day it debuts in about 75 theaters.
Produced by Weinstein horror label Dimension Films, the movie will be distributed into the VOD market by Starz Media,
with premium channel Starz with the company’s digital distribution arm renting the film via VOD for $6.99 ($7.99 for 3D) starting Friday through cable, satellite and telco TV service providers. (Purchasers have 30 days to watch it.)
The movie will also be rented through Amazon Instant Video, Facebook, Google Play/YouTube, iTunes, PlayStation Network, Vudu, and Xbox Live
Such “day and date” VOD releases are becoming pretty common in the independent film world. These days, in order to successfully mobilize a critical mass of moviegoers to 1,000 theaters or more on the same weekend — a so-called “wide release” — you need big marketing resources, and you need to create tremendous “brand awareness.” (It’s the reason why Hollywood’s studios are releasing so many sequels, remakes and reboots — when you put out a film based on a popular comic book, best-selling novel or board game, a lot of that heavy promotional lifting is already done.)
A low-budget adult drama based on obscure source material, for example, will now be released in a handful of big-city theaters — just enough to generate some prestige factor for the film, giving it a current-event feel for where the real money will be made, on cable and internet VOD.
Pretty rare for bigger films
Still, while some media analysts see so-called “day and date” VOD releases as the preferred motion-picture release model, the strategy is rarely employed by larger studios like Weinstein, which released this year’s Oscar Best Picture winner, The Artist.
The major studios have tried to get close, of course — last year, for example, Universal wanted to release its Ben Stiller comedy-action film, Tower Heist, on VOD just three weeks after its theatrical premiere. It backed off the plan, however, when several major exhibition chains threatened to boycott the movie.
For certain kinds of high-profile projects, however, the strategy has been less controversial. For example, Fox’s Get the Gringo — produced and starring the man who right now constitutes Hollywood’s most radioactive element, Mel Gibson — eschewed theatrical release all together when it was released earlier this year on DirecTV VOD.
As for Piranha 3DD, the model seems to make a lot of sense, too.
The film it follows up, 2010’s Piranha 3D, was an undersold remake of an eponymous 1978 low-budget horror movie. Produced for $24 million, the film and its director, Alexandre Aja, received solid reviews from critics. But the movie underperformed domestically, grossing just $25 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters.
Most of its money was made overseas and in the domestic home entertainment market.
Aja, who took great care to convert the 2010 film from 2D to 3D, isn’t around for the follow-up, however. And with heavy-on-ham appearances by actors like Baywatch star David Hasselhoff and Gary Busey, the sequel’s reviews aren’t nearly as good, either.
Should Piranha 3DD justify is modest production cost with its VOD performance this weekend, look for distributors like Weinstein to find other ways to exploit the day and date model.