Big Month for VOD Pix

November's video-on-demand movie lineup, featuring nearly a dozen titles premiering on the same day and date as their home-video release, is close to the business touchdown that cable operators have always envisioned for the platform.

With big box-office titles like Sony's The Da Vinci Code sequel Angels and Demons ($133 million at the box office) and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 ($64 million), alongside niche titles like Fox's kids-themed Aliens in the Attic ($23 million) and Universal's adult comedy Funny People ($51 million), operators are finally beginning to convince studios that the day-and-date concept isn't a death knell for their DVD business, but rather a new and very lucrative revenue opportunity.

The beat will continue in December as Warner Bros. debuts Terminator Salvation, the action/sci-fi thriller that drew $125 million at the box office, on Dec. 1, at the same time Blockbuster, Netflix and Wal-Mart get the DVD for rental or sale. Sony Pictures will also release adult comedy Julia & Julia Dec. 8 on a day-and-date basis.

In Demand interim CEO Bob Benya said that he expects nearly half of all VOD titles offered in 2010 to be released on par with DVD — a major accomplishment, considering most titles carried a 45-to-90-day DVD window just five years ago.

Still, the industry needs to figure out how to convert the remaining 50% of non-day-and-date titles, because many of them are among the biggest movies in Hollywood. Dreamworks' Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a $379 million box-office smash, is debuting later this month with a 29-day DVD window, while GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which earned $291 million, will appear on VOD schedules 14 days after hitting DVD shelves.

Warner may be offering VOD distributors Terminator Salvation simultaneously with its DVD release next month, but it is also putting seven days between the DVD and VOD debuts of the $295 million blockbuster movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the $271 million comedy flick The Hangover. The Walt Disney Co. — which has yet to buy into the day-and-date trend — is offering on VOD through its Buena Vista studio arm the animated film Up, which earned nearly $300 million at the box office, a full month after its run on the DVD shelves.

Other December top movies available for DVD rental or purchase before VOD include Fox's Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, a $177 million box office title that carries a 17-day VOD window. Paramount's Star Trek will warp to VOD 29 days after its DVD debut.

While studios will continue to experiment with day-and-date titles on some big hit films, they understandably remain squeamish about potentially reducing huge DVD sell-through and rental revenue for top box-office titles. Operators will have to prove to them, without a shadow of a doubt, that premiering such titles on VOD is a revenue no-brainer and that the industry will aggressively promote and market day-and-date titles so that cable subscribers instinctively turn to VOD first to gain access to their favorite movies.

For now, VOD is not quite on the same playing field as DVD, but at least it's in the same park. It'll take more hard work, and even better overall revenue and buy results, to go from the bleachers to the 50-yard line.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.