Exhibitors throw wrench into opera offering

Culture on pay-per-view TV suffered a setback Thursday when the Metropolitan Opera canceled its plans to funnel eight operas to at least 30 million digital-cable homes this year.

The blueprint was to offer the operas to In Demand, the largest distributor of PPV movies and events, 30 days after they make their debut live in 400 multiplex screens in the U.S. (plus 200 more in Canada and Europe). The Met and In Demand would have shared the $9.99 PPV retail price.

But Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met, said the theater owners went bananas at the short 30-day window, forcing the opera company to abrogate its contract with In Demand.

“In Demand was disappointed,” Gelb said. “But it was also sympathetic to the passionate feelings of the movie theaters.”

For the movies they exhibit, theater owners typically control an exclusive window of at least four months before a title goes up for sale or rental at the corner DVD store.

Gelb said he was aware of that window, “but I didn’t think it would be an issue for the opera, which is significantly different from a theatrical movie.” Where the movie runs multiple times each day until the customers stop showing up, Gelb said there’s only the live feed of the opera to exhibitors and maybe one encore performance a day or so later.

But the number of performances was not the major issue for exhibitors but the precedent of the 30-day PPV concession to the Met. The exhibs are convinced the major studios are looking to get movies sooner to DVD and PPV than the current four- to six-month window so they can take advantage of the tens of millions of dollars spent to market and promote a mainstream movie. The studios might seize on the 30-day Met deal to hack away at the length of the theatrical window to the detriment of exhibitors, the loops feared.

But public broadcasting will get the eight operas as scheduled this year, within two months of their debut in the theaters, because, Gelb said, “Movie theaters are not concerned about free television.”

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