The Real Problem With Release Windows

No, not Windows releases (sorry, as a Linux user I couldn’t resist), release windows. You know, those rules that studios impose that stipulate that a film has to come out in the cinema first, then on DVD a few months later, then on pay per view a few months after that and then lastly on regular TV? Yes, it’s the fact of life we all love to hate. Well, William Jardine over at A113Animation has had enough, of foreign release windows that is:

By this I don’t mean cases where the film comes out a few days later here in the UK than it does in America (as with DreamWorks’ upcoming Rise of the Guardians), nor do I, really, mean a delay of a month or less – although these cases seem a little pointless – what I’m referring to are the several month long, extended delays between the original US theatrical release, and whenever it eventually winds up elsewhere. With the best will in the world, the excitement and anticipation doesn’t quite hold over for four months.

Growing up in Ireland, I was well used to the delays we often were forced to endure until films made the trip across the Atlantic. That, however, was in the olden days; when films were only available on 35mm and VHS tapes from either side were not compatible (a technical glitch caused by the differing TV broadcast standards, not DRM or regional codes).

Today, things are quite different. For one, a lot of US cinemas use digital projection so no more 35mm stock to ship or even splice! Secondly, the global nature of the internet means that instant gratification is not only demanded, it is often necessary.

Take a look at the screenshot below, yes it is the good ol’ Pirate Bay (yo ho ho) and as you can clearly see, I have not only the option to download Wreck-It Ralph, I have options!

This is where the crux of the problem is. the way various licenses and rights work (it’s on a per country basis), they all have to be cleared in advance of a film being shown. That’s not to say that Britain has a slow process, just that movie studios have to copyright and clear everything they do. It’s partly out of necessity and partly out of stubbornness (a discussion for another time). All this is especially egregious when there is no need to redub the language tracks however.

Where William’s (quite excellent letter) strays is that he appeals to the studio’s sense of pride and the fact that it will be to the audience’s benefit (hahaha). As we all know, that’s worked, er, not so well in the past. Studios listen to money. William says that film franchises are “not just money-making machines”, except that that is exactly what you are. If you take away the money-making aspect, the films also disappear.

What the screenshot above represents isn’t so much people denying Disney revenue, it’s proof that Disney is denying itself revenue. If I’m in the UK, why wait the four months for the film to come out? The winter is cold and the nights are long. A quick download later and I’m watching the latest film.

The same goes for the DVD releases, I can safely say that I am much more likely to buy a DVD right after seeing a film in the cinema than months later (and thank goodness too, otherwise I would have a copy of The Last Samurai in my collection).

All of this makes even less sense when, as William points out, DreamWorks will have Rise of the Guardians playing within a matter of days. Disney has done similar releases too, so why the delay for Ralph? Perhaps it would be to the studio’s advantage to always have films ready to go in multiple markets at the same time. Sure, it may cost more, but isn’t that better than seeing people try to view it through other means; especially those that you don’t control or extract revenue from?

2 Comments on “The Real Problem With Release Windows

  1. They did it with The Dark Knight Rises – it was released everywhere within a few hours. It’s horrible waiting for Wreck It Ralph to come out over here, and theres not even a sensible reason why we have to!

    Same goes for Finding Nemo 3D…

  2. Yeah, Wreck-it Ralph doesn’t premiere here in Norway until February. Most other Disney movies don’t. (Both Brave (and yes, I know that’s Pixar) and Tangled also had a delay.) Which I thought for years was because the translation process takes a long time; but from what I’ve heard, the movies are already translated months before the movie is released.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see that Rise of the Guardians will start showing here already in November. I wonder if there’s a visible box-office difference in the UK (because Norway would be a bad place to measure in terms of animation since fewer people would download an english animated film for their kids and thus the delay would only possibly stop teenagers and older people, which aren’t really in the biggest customer group) when it comes to movies with long release delay vs short.

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