Sony testing ‘Teacher’ on iTunes, Amazon

Comedy quietly hits digital platforms two weeks before Oct. 18 DVD release

Bad Teacher” is putting traditional distribution strategy to the test.

Sony Pictures’ homevideo division quietly gave a headstart to the the R-rated comedy’s electronic sell-through offering across iTunes, Amazon, XBox, Playstation Network and Vudu two weeks before the Oct. 18 DVD release.

The goal is to convert even a fraction of the consumers who might otherwise rent the film to purchase instead. As studios seek to offset steep declines in DVD revenues crucial to their fiscal health, they are doing whatever possible to incentivize ownership, particularly the launch of new cloud-based system Ultraviolet.

The advance push for “Teacher” marks the first time a major studio has altered the distribution scheme in this manner for a widely released theatrical, though Sony has done some similar experiments on smaller films in the past and is giving a new documentary, “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” the same early release as “Teacher.”

In July, Summit Entertainment advanced both digital rental and purchase options for “Source Code” about two weeks before the DVD street date.

But giving digital purchases a two-week jump on digital and disc rentals and disc purchases doesn’t represent a new window as the early bow doesn’t violate the 90-day gap between theatrical release and homevideo, is already typically scheduled weeks after that gap expires.

Of course, every purchase made in the accelerated EST window could siphon transactions from platforms like cable VOD, which subsist entirely on rentals.

John Calkins, exec veep global digital and commercial innovation at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, is encouraged enough by the preliminary sales figures on “Teacher” to indicate at least one more title will get the early push before year-end.

“The numbers on ‘Bad Teacher’ look really promising, so I imagine we’ll try some other things,” he said, declining to divulge specific figures.

U.S. consumer spending on film rentals surpassed purchases in the first quarter of 2011 for the first time since 1998, according to Morgan Stanley research, and is projected to command two-thirds of spending by 2015. Migration away from purchasing titles is expected to drop per-household profits for studios from $130 in 2005 to $90 each in 2015.

“Teacher” was chosen as a guinea pig because its aud was projected to have enough digitally savvy consumers to count on for early sampling.

The early EST bow isn’t likely to increase beyond two weeks, said Calkins, or risk requiring the kind of additional anti-piracy security that premium VOD needs. He didn’t rule out making early EST standard for Sony titles, but said there’s no current plans to do so.

“Bad Teacher” also takes advantage of incremental promotional efforts at the digital-retailer level. Apple and Vudu marked the title as a “digital exclusive” and gave it prominent placement on their respective storefronts.