Monday, January 02, 2006

It's the Delivery System, Stupid

On 10/30, I blogged ("The Cuban Revolution") about the "video window"--the artificial barrier that prevents cable and television from showing films at the same time they are released on DVD. In an article in Slate, Edward Jay Epstein said that there is an institutionalized delay for pay-per-view of 45 days while the delay for subscription cable (like HBO) is at least four months.

Epstein's contention is that the only reason the video window exists is because of Wal-Mart, the world's biggest company. According to Epstein, Wal-Mart has made it clear to Hollywood that they want those 45 days to sell any new DVD, free from competition before the film is released to pay-for-view or cable. Fearful of ticking off a company that provided studios with more than one-third of their U.S. DVD revenue in 2004, Hollywood maintains the artificial barrier and protects Wal-Mart's DVD sales.

Now, in an typically aggressive move, Mark Cuban is threatening to spit in Wal-Mart's eye.

In case you're not familiar with him, Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. He is also very involved in the film/television business. He owns a chunk of Landmark Theatres and a film company, Magnolia Pictures. He was the executive producer of the film "Good Night, and Good Luck." TV watchers may remember his short-lived reality show, "The Benefactor."

Cuban thinks that the video window should be eliminated so that consumers can purchase a film "how they want it, when they want it, [and] where they want it." To this end, he announced his plan to release a film simultaneously in theatres, on DVD and on pay-for-view television.

In an article in Salon's 12/30 issue (, Andrew O'Hehir announced that "2006 will witness the birth of what's called 'day-and-date' releasing, in which selected indie-type films will simultaneously appear in art-house theaters, become available on pay-per-view television, and (in some cases) be released on DVD. Magnolia . . . will release Steven Soderbergh's 'Bubble' on all three platforms on Jan. 27, and the entire industry is watching eagerly."

As a writer, I'm interested in this development because we're not just talking about films; we're talking about delivery systems. As we move into the future, consumers will be able to choose among a variety of delivery systems: to watch films, listen to music and absorb written material (Note: I didn't say "read." It may be that some consumers will read a novel in book form while others listen to that same novel on an audio player and still others read the novel on a downloadable eReader or computer).

Writers need to pay attention to new developments in delivery systems. These will have enormous impact on us in coming years.

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