Universal's 30-day pact with Comcast prompts Cinemark to refuse to show Stiller pic

For the first time since the premium video-on-demand debate flared up in March, an exhibitor is fighting back with the nuclear option: Cinemark on Thursday announced it would not show “Tower Heist” because of Universal’s decision to offer the film on premium VOD three weeks after its theatrical bow.

U announced Wednesday that it had partnered with Comcast to offer the Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy “Tower Heist,” which opens Nov. 4, on PVOD less than 30 days later for $60 in two markets: Portland, Ore., and Atlanta. While U didn’t specify the date Comcast customers could watch the film, the three-week window that Cinemark specified would make the title avail-able over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“If Universal Pictures moves forward with its ‘Tower Heist’ premium video-on-demand offering as announced, Cinemark has determined, in its best business interests, that it will decline to exhibit this film in its theaters,” Cinemark said in a statement.

Presuming Cinemark plans to boycott the title across its entire chain, that would represent about 10% of total screens in the U.S. U declined to comment on the development.

It’s not clear how much impact Cinemark alone would have on the film’s B.O., though a boycott could lead other exhibs to threaten the same. Cinemark is the nation’s third-largest circuit with 3,850 screens at 295 theaters in 39 states. The nation’s top two chains, Regal and AMC, did not immediately responded to requests for comment.

While no exhibitor has yet followed through with an outright boycott over PVOD, some overseas theater owners previously threatened to pull “Alice in Wonderland” from plexes when Disney announced last year it would offer the film on DVD after 12 weeks, rather than the traditional 16 or 17 weeks.

Those exhibs, primarily in the U.K., eventually backed down; Disney compromised slightly longer window instead.

According to sources, U plans to compensate exhibs for any losses incurred due to the premium VOD trial; compensation will be limited to those two markets where Comcast will make the film available. It did not, however, specify how the amount of those losses might be determined.

“Tower Heist” helmer Brett Ratner declined comment on Cinemark’s statement.

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