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Comcast tests VOD service with ‘Tower’

Pic available 30 days after it bows for $60

Theater owners have a reason to get angry again: Comcast will use Universal’s “Tower Heist” to test its own premium video-on-demand service by making the pic available 30 days after it bows for $60.

The Brett Ratner-helmed film will only be made available to Comcast customers in Atlanta, and Portland, Ore., midsize markets that limit the test to around 500,000 subscribers.

“Tower Heist,” which stars Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick, bows Nov. 4.

Move follows a test that 20th Century Fox, Sony, Warner Bros. and Universal recently ended exclusively with DirecTV, in which they provided the satcaster with four films for $30 around 60 days after their theatrical releases. The test, which began in April, lasted for around six months.

The traditional window is 90 days before films bow on homevid. VOD titles typically rent for around $5-$6 per film.

The initial titles used for the test included Fox’s “Water for Elephants,” “Cedar Rapids” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules”; Sony went with “Just Go With It,” “Battle: Los Angeles” and “Soul Surfer”; U provided “The Adjustment Bureau,” “Paul” and “Your Highness”; and WB’s titles were “Hall Pass” and “Sucker Punch.” Each film was available for two weeks.

While the number of orders wasn’t as high as the studios had hoped, given the small amount of marketing DirecTV put behind the premium VOD push, the studios told Variety they weren’t finished with tests of the earlier rental window.

Theater owners fear Hollywood’s promotion of a new premium window will hurt ticket sales.

Ironically, “Tower Heist” helmer Ratner had joined Peter Jackson, Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo Del Toro, Michael Mann and 17 other high-profile helmers in April to sign a letter from the National Assn. of Theater Owners that opposed shrinking theatrical windows.

Although a spokesperson for Ratner said the director had been made aware of the early VOD release, “Brett did not participate in the planning of the test.”

At the time of the initial premium VOD test, in April, DirecTV was chosen after it proved to studios that it had the necessary antipiracy technology on its newer set-top boxes to prevent pics from being illegally copied and distributed, which could have hurt disc sales weeks later during the traditional homevid window.

But in Comcast’s case, “Tower Heist” will still be playing in theaters, giving theaters reason to consider pulling the pic from theaters in the two cities it’s available on premium VOD.

According to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported on the PVOD plans for “Tower Heist” on Wednesday, Universal is assuring exhibs they will be compensated if ticket sales for the film take a hit in the two markets where the premium VOD test is taking place.

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