Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Coming Soon to Your Living Room: The $60 Movie Rental

From the people who brought you $30 movie rentals, here’s the sequel: the $60 movie rental.

That’s what Universal will try charging in a test this fall, three weeks after it opens “Tower Heist.”

[UPDATE: No, it won’t: The studio has killed the plan after protests from theater owners.]

If you live in Atlanta, Georgia, or Portland, Oregon, you’ll be able to watch the new Eddie Murphy/Ben Stiller movie in your house for $59.99 — while the movie is still in theaters and months before it would normally be available for video-on-demand rentals.

It’s one in a series of experiments Hollywood has embarked on as it tries to play with the traditional “windows” that govern when a distribution outlet gets a movie and how much consumers need to pay to see it.

The idea, theoretically, is that consumers will pay a big premium to see a big movie — or at least one with big expectations — in their house instead of going to a theater. The earlier version of this test involved “meh” movies that had already left the theaters, but wouldn’t normally be available on VOD for a while.

That one cost $30, but at least there was some logic to it — it could end up being cheaper than a traditional movie night for two after you factor in parking, gas, etc.

But painting a $60 movie as a bargain is going to be awfully tough, no matter what math you use. And the fact that it represents a premium for a “collapsed” window won’t mean much for regular people. Even regular people with really nice home theaters and/or expensive babysitters.

Instead it seems as though Universal — and parent company Comcast, which is handling the cable delivery for the movie — is really trying to ensure that almost no one will pay up, and thus not ruffle movie exhibitors’ feathers. Except if that’s the case, then why bother doing it at all?

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik