Exhib org topper: Early windows will 'exacerbate' piracy

In the continuing debate over premium VOD, the National Assn. of Theater Owners responded Thursday to what it called “unsolicited advice” on the issue offered on Wednesday by Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes and CBS topper Leslie Moonves.

Conglom pair suggested at a tech confab in Gotham that exhibs are overstating the threat posed to moviegoing by the launch of premium VOD on a test basis.

“I know theater owners are scared,” Moonves said on the panel. “They are going to have to change a bit to prevent a crisis.”

“Nobody discounts (theatrical viewing),” added Bewkes, but at some point sooner consumers should have the choice with movies to “see it in a theater, or see it at home.” .

Instead of reassuring exhibs, the exec duo’s advice only continued to ruffle feathers.

“Forgive us if we decline to take business lessons from the end of the industry that enabled the erosion of value in the home market,” NATO prexy John Fithian said in the statement. “The creation of $1.99 kiosk rentals and $7.99 monthly subscriptions have undercut the sell-through model in the home — not theatrical release windows.”

Fithian continued: “Let me offer some advice in return, from the end of the business that has grown more than 25% globally over the last five years. Your problem is in the home window: fix it there. You will not create extra revenue by introducing in the theatrical window the same self-cannibalizing channel confusion that has decimated the home market.”

Both Bewkes and Moonves were candid in their defense of premium VOD, suggesting that the platform’s shortened theatrical window to 60 days will help combat piracy.

On that note, Fithian responded saying, “Combat piracy by charging $30 for a rental? Really? You can’t compete with free. Early VOD release will only exacerbate theft by giving the pirates a pristine digital copy of the movie much earlier than they have with DVDs.”

Fithian emphasized that the issue of shifting release windows is a global concern.

“Theater owners around the globe are indeed concerned,” Fithian said. “So are many leading movie directors and producers who care about the theatrical experience. Studio bosses should spend more time talking to their partners about models that might work, instead of asking us to calm down.”

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