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Simultaneous Release is the name given to an experimental new method of making movies available to consumers.
Traditionally, movies are released first in cinemas. A DVD release follows some months later. Later still the movie is released through pay-per-view television; then premium cable networks; and finally free-to-air television. This staggered release schedule gives each distribution channel an exclusive "window" in which to profit from the movie.
Simultaneous releasing of a movie removes these windows: the movie is released to cinemas and other channels such as DVD, internet and television, on or around the same date.
This release strategy's chief advantage to consumers is that consumers may choose how and where they will watch the movie.
A key financial benefit for distributors promoting independent movies that have smaller budgets is that they need only spend on one marketing campaign, rather than separate campaigns for each release window.
The chief opposition to simultaneous release comes from cinema owners who expect to be disadvantaged financially from the loss of their exclusive windows. Commenting on simultaneous release in January 2006, John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, said "It's the biggest threat to the viability of the cinema industry today."
Opponents of simultaneous release on other grounds include director M. Night Shyamalan, who believes movies will lose their "magic" if they don't play in cinemas. Shyamalan calls simultaneous release "heartless and soulless and disrespectful." The sentiment was echoed by Peter Brown, the chief executive of AMC Entertainment, who claimed that reducing films to direct-to-video products would amount to "crass commercialism." Exhibitors are especially frightened of this development, as many feared that they would eventually lose their exclusive release windows for more mainstream films such as Harry Potter.
HDTV magnate Mark Cuban believes that Hollywood’s distribution system requires radical change. He wants to do away with artificial windows so that consumers can buy a movie, as he notes in his blog, “How they want it, when they want it, where they want it.” He argues that movies should be made available simultaneously on cable television, DVD, and in movie theaters, letting consumers decide whether they prefer to see it at home.
Andy Whittaker of Dogwoof Pictures stated that simultaneous releasing is a natural step for independent movies. This is the only way that entrepreneurs and independents stand a chance to have a shot in an industry run by the studios.
Staggering the release of each movie between the various release formats has been a cash cow for many years, and it might not be easy to dislodge that model because it is also very lucrative.
Hollywood won't know the impact of simultaneous release until a studio tries it with a big-budget movie, such as a Harry Potter sequel. But those movies do very well in the current window system, so it is unlikely that Warner Bros. would take a chance with one of them. What is likely to be seen instead is a further narrowing of the time between theatrical and DVD releases. That makes cinema owners nervous too, but not as much as simultaneous release.
In July 2005, UK / US micro budget indie EMR directed by James Erskine & Danny McCullough became the first simultaneous release, released theatrically, to DVD and to the Internet all on the same day. Producer John Lentaigne said: "The filmmakers believe that the choice as to how consumers view films should rest with the consumer and that theatrical, DVD and Internet forms of distribution need not threaten each other, and may indeed be mutually complimentary [sic].”
In January 2006, Bubble, directed by Steven Soderbergh, followed with a larger near-simultaneous release to cinema and cable television, followed days later by DVD. This experiment was notable as it was helmed by a director of the caliber of Academy Award winner Soderbergh.
In March 2006 The Road to Guantanamo, directed by Michael Winterbottom, was shown theatrically simultaneously with television and internet download.
The companies piloting the Simultaneous Release model are Magnolia Pictures and Dogwoof Pictures.
Films Released Simultaneously
Films Released Theatrically and on other channels simultaneously include:
- EMR (2005)
- Bubble (2006)
- The Road to Guantanamo (2006)
- A Field in England (2013)
- In Your Eyes (2014)
- "First film released simultaneously in cinemas, on net and DVD, 12 July 2005. Online.". Net4Now News. Retrieved June 11, 2011.