The herd mentality is alive and well in Hollywood, as demonstrated by the recent news that Netflix continues in its bid to hijack new releases. As I noted in January, Netflix made a deal with Warner Brothers to implement a 28-day shipping delay for new WB releases in exchange for better prices and increased access to product for its growing “Watch Instantly” streaming service. If you remember, I predicted other movie studios would soon jump on the bandwagon, and indeed they have.
Last week, Universal Studios Home Video and Twentieth Century Fox sealed similar deals with Netflix. In exchange for the moratorium on shipping new releases, Netflix will again receive numerous film and television properties for its streaming service. The pact with Universal also covers many flicks that have never been streamed in the past. The first Universal DVD to fall under the new deal will be It’s Complicated, the Nancy Myers comedy starring Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep. The first Twentieth Century Fox DVD will be Jim Cameron’s Avatar. The only star I need mention for Avatar is 3-D, who was pretty good but wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. (By the way, Twentieth Century Fox wins the unofficial “First DVD to Be Delayed and Really Piss Off Netflix Subscribers” competition.) (And yes, a 3-D Blu-Ray release of Avatar is planned for later in the year—probably the first of many different versions. My bet is Twentieth Century Fox will do everything it can to maximize profits from this cash cow. Look for the “Limited Edition Ultimate Four-Disc Premium 3-D Blu-Ray Unrated Collector’s Director’s Cut” to arrive just in time for your Christmas shopping needs.)
Of course, this is a major win for Netflix. Video-on-demand is much cheaper to operate than the standard DVD-by-mail service. Netflix swears it will not discontinue DVD rental, but only time will tell. So, it makes perfect business sense for the company to seal these deals. But does it truly benefit the studios?
The movie studios believe these deals will increase sales of DVDs. The thinking goes like this: The unwashed masses love standard studio fare so much that, deprived of the ability to rent the DVDs immediately, they will go out and buy new releases rather than wait to receive them by mail 28 days later (or longer, depending on the film’s popularity—hey, Netflix, stock more copies of big releases). And I guess that makes sense…somewhat. But, just a couple of years ago, wasn’t piracy the studios’ main concern? It was, right? Hey Hollywood, I know you have a short memory, but did you stop to consider that this new paradigm might just increase piracy? You could be shooting yourself in the foot here. Good luck and all, but remember: File sharing is not your friend and you might actually encourage it if you make policy that keeps your product from the consumer. Just a thought.