Universal to release 'Tower Heist' on-demand just three weeks after it hits theaters

On November 4, the Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy action-comedy Tower Heist will begin playing at a theater near you. Just three weeks later, if you happen to live in either Atlanta or Portland, Ore. — and happen to have 60 bucks burning a hole in your pocket — Tower Heist could begin playing on a TV screen in your living room. As first reported by The Los Angeles Times, in an unprecedented experiment, Universal Pictures will make Tower Heist, one of its biggest holiday-season releases, available on-demand just 21 days after it hits theaters. The VOD offer will only be available to roughly 500,000 Comcast subscribers in those two markets (Universal is now owned by Comcast), and it’s anyone’s guess how many of them will actually shell out the $59.99 rental fee for the convenience of watching a movie that’s still in theaters. But what’s certain is that the move will reopen the bitter debate over release windows that has driven a wedge between the major studios and the nation’s movie theater owners.

This past spring, a public feud broke out between studios and theater owners over a plan to make some films available on-demand in people’s homes as little as 60 days after their big-screen release. Given that the traditional window before a movie’s home video release is roughly 90 days, Universal’s experiment with a 21-day VOD window for Tower Heist could signal a major shift in the way studios do business. The studios contend that, at a time when DVD revenues continue to plummet, they’re simply exploring new potential revenue sources. The exhibitors counter that, with domestic attendance figures already sagging, premium VOD further undermines moviegoing and represents a direct threat to the film industry as we know it. In April, Tower Heist director Brett Ratner himself was one of almost two dozen filmmakers — including James Cameron, Michael Bay, Peter Jackson, and Todd Phillips — to sign an open letter protesting the narrowing of release windows.

A Universal spokesman says the Tower Heist VOD test will simply “allow [Universal and Comcast] to sample consumer appetite for this film in this window at this price while allowing the film to achieve its full potential at the box office.” Thus far, the National Organization of Theater Owners has not commented on the plan, but it’s safe to say many exhibitors won’t see it as just a harmless experiment.


Comments (48 total) Add your comment
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  • Q.H.

    These major movie studios…AKA CORPORATE CONGLOMERATES…just continue to destroy society in every way possible, all for the almighty dollar. We are doomed, folks. Seriously.

    • Person

      Dear EW,

      STEVE JOBS JUST DIED.

      Sincerely,
      Get with the program

      • Person 2

        Hey! Stop interrupting this very important Tower Heist news.

      • Hermione

        Are you serious, Person? Huh. I guess maybe I just imagined the top three stories that are all devoted to Jobs on EW’s front page.

      • dee

        Oh Person you must be one of those sad people who stand in the rain for 48 hours to get an iphone.

      • Alex F

        Sorry, Person 2. I guess some folks have no appreciation for very funny sarcasm.

    • Nick

      If I owned a movie theater I would be worried. But sometimes high quality will still bring people out. Nobody could have predicted Lion King did so well in theaters when the Blu Ray was just day’s away. And $60, that seems like an experiment doomed to fail, unless you are a family with 6 people, which is not the average group.

  • Marissa

    WHAT? Sixty dollars?! Who in their right mind would even pay that?

    • Captain

      People who aren;t allowed in movie theatres in their underwear.

      • Ranch Mubay

        For the Eddie Murphy/Precious love scene?

      • John

        Just go to the theater in sweatpants then you take them off. Just saved you $50.

    • John

      You know, the last of my siblings moved out of my parents house just this last year, but if we were a decade younger, there would of been 7 of us still under 1 roof. Combined with a 60+ inch plasma, I could see it making sense for larger families. Cheaper popcorn and drinks, no spent gas, etc.

    • mike

      For $60 it better not be just the movie, Tea Leoni should come to my house and blow me. Heck, Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy too, and I’m not even gay or bi.

      • rlb237

        Thanks, mike, my computer is now covered in the beverage I had been drinking before I read your post.

  • Gill

    The movie looks baaaaddddd !

  • ParkR

    Might be a good option for those couples who will avoid paying the baby sitter, getting carryout instead of a restaurant, and popping their own popcorn.
    It is also another option to watch it with larger groups. So I wouldn’t totally poo poo the idea just depends on the situation

  • Gam

    60 bucks is probably less then 4 people going to the theatre and getting food…so u get the comfort of your home AND u get to make your own food and can have as many people as you want to watch it…not a terrible idea…

    • Emma

      But why not just watch a movie that was released last year then? It’s not like anyone is dying to see this film. People usually enjoy the movie-going experience.

  • amelia in portland

    60 bucks for a newly released movie? Um, now they’re not even getting my money at the theater because this is just stupid and outrageous. I’ll wait six months from now when I can see it on someone else cable for free. Comcast is greedy.

    • Phil

      So since no one else here has the intelligence to mention is, and I sure as hell dont live ion ATL on Portland, and you do…i’ll say it as a response to your comment. 21 days aftewr the Nov. 4th release puts us in the magical, holiday gathering week where we commonly celebrate THANKSGIVING here in the good ol’ U.S. So yes, $60 is steep but if you have your entire family over, you know usually more than 5 or 6 people in a household, but say 15 – 20…I think that $60 pricetag suddenly becomes a massive value. Am I saying this is going to be a success? I doubt it, I mean how will they really properly collect the data, no one is going to know the number of people seeing the movie based on each $60 rental fee. But I am really shocked none of you geniuses here have thought about the Thanksgiving week tie in. Maybe you’re all still grieving over Steve Jobs.

  • Rukia

    LMAO. $60 for that turd of a film?

    • Just A Guy

      So you’ve seen it?

  • Lola

    Pay $60 to a corporate conglomerate to watch a movie about the head of a corporate conglomerate ripping people off? Really?

  • Alice

    nice, i expect to see a hdtv rip leak

  • Wow

    That’s balls. That’s serious, serious balls. Doing that in this economy?

  • neptune

    It might be worth the 60 bucks to have several friends over for a movie. I know that I am sick of paying 10 plus snacks only to have my movie experience ruined by people who cant shut up, continually open their cell phones and who bring babies to the theater. If theater owners are so concerned about losing business to people staying home then they should work at making the theater experience more enjoyable.

    • Shannon

      I agree that the theater-going experience could use some improvement, but I still enjoy going to the movies.
      Movie snacks? I never buy ‘em. I find them revolting and I usually eat beforehand. And people who can’t shut up? Well, if it’s a full house, they usually end up getting shushed by somebody. In any case, I’d never shell out $60 for a movie rental. I don’t care if my TV literally started spitting out money one day. It’s just a ridiculous offer.

  • Darrin

    Why do the studios insist on constantly trying to find ways to alienate the theaters that make them so much money? They force the theaters to foot the bill for more and more 3D screens so they can crank out more 3D conversion films to make themselves a few more $, then keep constantly shortening the theater-only window that allows anyone else to make a profit too. The major theater corps. should band together to not show any releases by the studios who try this crap to show them how much they could lose.

  • Shannon

    I know people are gasping about this already, but I just have to jump in: $60???? 60 freakin’ dollars?!!! For a movie I don’t think I’d even watch for free?! This, you call a luxury?! On what planet?

  • ed

    wow…..the CEO of universal need to be fore for Green Lighting this idea. Now people will not even pay $10 to see it in the actually theatre b/c you are upsetting people already. Seriously….$60? Was someone high on drugs when making this decision? LOL

  • Chris

    Well considering the average movie ticket price is around $10 then you have another $10+ on the popcorn and candy, for a family of four this isn’t such a ridiculous premium for the convenience of sitting at home and not having to deal with sticky floors. Although I’m sure someone will post it on the internet sooner and people will watch it for free so it might backfire.

    • Joe Blo

      The company is right, movies are made to be enjoyed in a theatre…

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