James Cameron, Guillermo del Toro, Kathryn Bigelow, and Other Directors and Producers Write Open Letter Protesting Premium VOD

     April 20, 2011


Home Premiere, a Premium VOD service backed by four major studios, is set to launch tomorrow on DirecTV.  The service would charge consumers $30 to watch movies only sixty days after they first hit theaters.  Theaters, fearing that their revenues will be drastically cut, have responded with threats that range from believable to ridiculous.  Now 23 directors and producers, including James Cameron, Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, Michael Mann, and Gore Verbinski have released an open letter siding with the theaters.

In the letter, the signers make the point that just because Premium VOD launches at $30, it doesn’t mean it will stay there and it could conceivably drop to $10 within a few year.  Hit the jump for the full letter.

movie-theater-01It’s also important to note that some of the filmmakers who signed—most notably Cameron—have a vested interest in the success of theaters and their ability to show 3D movies.  But also, like any true lover of film, they enjoy the experience of seeing a movie in a theater and know that it can never truly be replicated in the comfort of one’s own living room.

Sadly, I don’t think this open letter will change anything regarding Premium VOD.  As I’ve said before, the deal is already in place and the studios will only discontinue the service if it doesn’t meet their projected revenues.

Here’s the full letter [via THR]:


We are the artists and business professionals who help make the movie business great. We produce and direct movies. We work on the business deals that help get movies made. At the end of the day, we are also simply big movie fans.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk by leaders at some major studios and cable companies about early-to-the-home “premium video-on-demand.” In this proposed distribution model, new movies can be shown in homes while these same films are still in their theatrical run.

In this scenario, those who own televisions with an HDMI input would be able to order a film through their cable system or an Internet provider as a digital rental. Terms and timing have yet to be made concrete, but there has been talk of windows of 60 days after theatrical release at a price of $30.

Currently, the average theatrical release window is over four months (132 days). The theatrical release window model has worked for years for everyone in the movie business. Current theatrical windows protect the exclusivity of new films showing in state-of-the-art theaters bolstered by the latest in digital projection, digital sound, and stadium seating.

As a crucial part of a business that last year grossed close to $32 billion in worldwide theatrical ticket sales, we in the creative community feel that now is the time for studios and cable companies to acknowledge that a release pattern for premium video-on-demand that invades the current theatrical window could irrevocably harm the financial model of our film industry.

Major studios are struggling to replace the revenue lost by the declining value of DVD transactions. Low-cost rentals and subscriptions are undermining higher priced DVD sales and rentals. But the problem of declining revenue in home video will not be solved by importing into the theatrical window a distribution model that cannibalizes theatrical ticket sales.

Make no mistake: History has shown that price points cannot be maintained in the home video window. What sells for $30-a-viewing today could be blown out for $9.99 within a few years. If wiser heads do not prevail, the cannibalization of theatrical revenue in favor of a faulty, premature home video window could lead to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue. Some theaters will close. The competition for those screens that remain will become that much more intense, foreclosing all but the most commercial movies from theatrical release. Specialty films whose success depends on platform releases that slowly build in awareness would be severely threatened under this new model. Careers that are built on the risks that can be taken with lower budget films may never have the chance to blossom under this cut-throat new model.

Further, releasing a pristine, digital copy of new movies early to the home will only increase the piracy problem—not solve it.

As leaders in the creative community, we ask for a seat at the table. We want to hear the studios’ plans for how this new distribution model will affect the future of the industry that we love.

And until that happens, we ask that our studio partners do not rashly undermine the current – and successful – system of releasing films in a sequential distribution window that encourages movie lovers to see films in the optimum, and most profitable, exhibition arena: the movie theaters of America.

We encourage our colleagues in the creative community to join with us by calling or emailing NATO at 202-962-0054 or nato@natodc.com.


Michael Bay
Kathryn Bigelow
James Cameron
Guillermo del Toro
Roland Emmerich
Antoine Fuqua
Todd Garner
Lawrence Gordon
Stephen Gyllenhaal
Gale Anne Hurd
Peter Jackson
Karyn Kusama
Jon Landau
Shawn Levy
Michael Mann
Bill Mechanic
Jamie Patricof
Todd Phillips
Brett Ratner
Robert Rodriguez
Adam Shankman
Gore Verbinski
Robert Zemeckis

  • joe kerr

    i don´t know what the problem is. from my POV this is model is very similar to that of pay per view some years ago and that never affected theaters.

  • Miles Bennett Dyson

    because James Cameron needs more money.

    I mean really this VOD thing might work well to weed out bad movies… when big blockbusters do come out, e.g. Avatar… most movie goers will see it in a movie theater… because it was visually stunning.

    but The Dilemma starring Paul Blart and Vince Vaughn is a sure bet for VOD.

    maybe studios will invest in better movies that people would want to go to the theaters for.

  • chris gault

    This will hurt ticket sales in the theater … i don’t feel bad for the big name directors/producers …. i do feel bad for theaters that are already struggling to make money that will shut down as ticket sales drop.

  • junierizzle

    I don’t think it will effect movies at all if the price is $30. Even for a family trying to cut costs by not going to the movies, $30 is still a lot of money. $10 would certainly do the trick though.

    But times are different and now it’s all about the opening weekend. IF there is a huge movie like Harry Potter or Transformers 3 then people are going to go see it. I don’t see anyone wanting to wait 60 days and pay 3x a movie ticket to watch it on their TV.

  • jb

    Theaters need to drop ticket and concession prices… problem solved. If movie tickets drop from $15.00 to, let’s say for example $8.00, then people will go to the movies. Let’s see what taking a date to an 8:00 pm movie costs just for your average movie-go-er: $15.00 a ticket for two tickets: $30.00, popcorn, $6.00 (if you get the big one and split it), two drinks: $8.00. So for popcorn, tickets and two drinks you’re looking at $44.00. When I was a teenager (I’m 27 now), that price was more like $20.00 when totaled.

    If I stay at home, using the VOD $30.00 price model: $30.00 for the movie, $0.99 for popcorn, $1.99 for two sodas. ~$33.00? All I’m saying is that if movie tickets dropped, people will pay for the higher quality if that difference is $2.00 or so. But not when the total is more than $10.00 and less convenient.

  • Ringbearer1420

    Asid from a couple of these people they all suck, notice the names Nolan, Anderson, and Scorcese are absent.
    It’s like when Muse came out against pirateing, when the band they shamelessly rip off (Radiohead) is all for pirating.

  • G

    Yeah, I echoing many of the statements above, two months is still kind of a long time. When a movie I want to see comes out, I see it within the first week that it comes out. If I see it again, it’s probably within that first month. Plus Cameron talks about the rise of technology-3d, 48fps. The rise of on demand technology is what that is, it’s a new technology that’s bringing films to the people. However, if this does seriously damage the economy of movie theaters, then my opinion will change. Like every film fan, I love the event of having a great afternoon or evening at the theatre.

  • Wayne

    The day people shut the fuck up and put away their blindingly-bright cell phones is the day I’ll go back to the movies.

  • Tol

    Are people really going to wait 2 months and then spend $30 on a movie you have to watch on your TV? Why would anyone do that?

    You may as well wait a little longer and buy the DVD/Blu Ray for less. Or even go and watch it at a movie theatre!

    • H20

      For families that can’t afford to take everyone to the movies all the time it’s a bargain. $30 and as many people can watch as you want and just pop your own popcorn. it adds up to hundreds in savings for those people.

      • Rockslide

        I’m sorry, but those people you’re talking about (like me) will just wait another month and rent it from Redbox for $1 or get it in the mail from Netflix. If I can wait 60 days, I can wait 90 or whatever.

        If they do drop the price down to $10, honestly, I’ll still wait for Netflix. $10 is still a lot more than $1. Its not like I’m waiting around with nothing to watch, its just all shifted 3 or 4 months from theatrical releases.

        I’m still on the side for lowering ticket prices. That is the only way to get me to see more movies sooner. Period.

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  • Killer

    Notice how almost every one of these directors can’t make a movie on a small budget that people will see, or would be worth a shit. A few of these directors have lost a fan, this is like Bernie Madoff complaining that his business model that has worked for years is being taken from him. Screw these guys!

  • Grimcicle

    I don’t have a problem with the idea of a premium VOD service. But I’m not going to pay $30 to stream a movie for 24 hours when I can spend $25 a month or two later for a BluRay copy of the same film.

  • Aaron

    Maybe some of these (most) directors should have an open letter to them begging them to not make terrible movies. The rehash old stories and luke warm ideas and make millions, but they are up in arms over this. They can;t write an original script but they can write a letter. Awesome.

    • Aaron

      P.S. did the letter explode for 5 minutes when it was read because Michael Bay signed it?

  • Terry

    Screw them cry babies.

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