Peter Kafka

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Netflix Adds Another Studio: Sony Agrees to 28-Day DVD "Window"

More movement from Netflix as it transitions from discs to digital: A  distribution deal with Sony that reduces its access to DVDs in exchange for lower fees and more rights to stream movies to your home.

Netflix (NFLX) wouldn’t release details about the pact, and hasn’t put out a press release announcing it, as it had with earlier deals with Time Warner’s (TWX) Warner Bros, GE’s (GE) Universal and News Corp.’s (NWS) 20th Century Fox.

But spokesman Steve Swasey confirmed that Netflix and Sony have reached another “28-day” arrangement, similar to the ones Netflix has reached with the other three studios.

Swasey wouldn’t release other details, but we can guess that the deal follows the pattern established with the precedent Netflix set in its January deal with Warner: Netflix agrees not to rent Sony’s (SNE) movies for the first 28 days after they go on sale. In return, it will pay the studio a reduced fee when it does rent the discs, and will get more movies to offer via its growing Web streaming service.

This seems like a win-win for the both sides: The studios get to wring every last penny out of their DVD business, and Netflix gets to build up the business it really cares about–delivering movies to your home via the Web.

But analyst Rich Greenfield, who wrote about the Sony deal in a note published Tuesday (registration required), says these deals have only been good for Netflix: Its costs have gone down, and its subscriber base has increased, but the studios have continued to see their DVD sales slip. “Clear victory for Netflix,” he writes.

His logic:

“* The studios have essentially played right into Netflix Founder and CEO Reed Hasting’s plan to reduce DVD costs to fund his company’s aggressive digital media rights acquisition plan.
* Netflix is rapidly bringing down its physical [cost of goods sold] by reaching delayed release window deals with studios and using fresher digital content to shift consumer behavior to streaming, reducing the number of DVDs utilized per customer per month (lowering its mailing costs).
* We suspect the Netflix window needed to be substantially longer than 28 days to justify the price reduction the studios have given Netflix – meaning a six month window might have impacted Netflix subscriber trends, whereas 28 days simply has not. Unfortunately studios were more focused on bolstering sell-through, which is largely complete within the first month of a DVD’s release, rather than damaging the long-term prospects of Netflix.
* Netflix continues to aggressively purchase digital movie rights having recently acquired rights to Relativity Media content and EPIX content, with Starz content increasingly important for Netflix to renew (at far higher costs) when their current agreement ends in 12 months.


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