The movie business is changing, my friends. According to the following Hollywood Reporter article, Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) intends to release its DVD products to retail shelves and video-on-demand at the same time -- the so-called "day-and-date" paradigm. CEO Jeff Bewkes announced this plan during Time Warner's earnings conference (check out Jon Ogg's coverage of the media conglomerate's quarter). Bewkes seemed satisfied that experiments with the strategy worked out well, proving that issues of cannibalization are overblown and that the margin scenarios are too cool to ignore. And, oh, those margins are awesome -- whereas you're talking maybe as high as 30% for a disc, a VOD protocol might yield 70%. That is a huge difference. And wait, here's another Hollywood Reporter piece coming online as I was writing this article, this one about Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) wanting in on the day-and-date excitement. The trade paper is reporting that iTunes will announce that it has struck a deal with the major studios -- as well as Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE: LGF) -- to release movies on its platform day-and-date with DVD releases.
Bewkes, my friend, you are so correct on this! And I'm glad Apple is pushing for it as well. I am definitely an advocate of day-and-date release. As an investor in content companies, I want to see this kind of simultaneous distribution increase in scope, since it puts more power in the hands of the content providers. Why should they be at the mercy of retail channels? Yes, DVD sales are still important, no one wants those revenues to go away, but let's be honest -- digital distribution will most likely either supplant or severely challenge the medium of physical storage as the future continues to unravel itself. Companies like Disney (NYSE: DIS), News Corp. (NYSE: NWS), Viacom (NYSE: VIA), and Sony (NYSE: SNE) are all fascinated by day-and-date -- they just need to get more aggressive about it. I'm glad that Time Warner is embracing DVD and VOD day-and-date, but what about the quadruple play? Would Bewkes dare go for, say, a movie being released in theaters, on DVD, on iTunes, and on VOD on the same weekend?Well, I've promoted this in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. I think the time has finally come to find out if hardcore day-and-date will work. Let's think about the next Harry Potter flick -- if Time Warner opened the film on all mediums at the same time, then one marketing campaign, as many have already observed, could be utilized to promote all three ancillary channels, thus conferring an attractive scale of efficiency. In terms of cannibalization, would it really hurt the value of the project? Yes, many consumers would eschew the theater side of things, but then again, theatricals are so front-loaded today (i.e., grossing most of their dollars in the early weekends) that I figure that the demos that drive the opening-weekend business -- the youthful ones -- will still go even if home-video counterparts are available at the same time. That's what young opening crowds like to do -- go to actual theaters to socialize. I wouldn't be worried about it.
I'm sure we're a long way from seeing day-and-date release to such an extent, but I'm at least satisfied with Time Warner's latest foray into this area. Content companies need as much leverage as they can get, and I think Bewkes is absolutely onto something here. I hope to hear more from him about this intriguing idea.
Disclosure: I own shares in Disney; positions can change at any time.