Universal aborts ‘Tower Heist’ VOD plan

Shortened PVOD window drew boycott threat from theater owners

It’s clear that Universal gave in to exhibitors’ pressure when it announced Wednesday that it was scrapping plans to make “Tower Heist” available via premium video-on-demand just three weeks after its theatrical release. What wasn’t quite clear is which exhibitors, or what kind of pressure.

Though Cinemark (3,825 screens) and National Amusements (450) openly stated their intentions to boycott Universal’s PVOD gambit by refusing to show “Tower Heist” in their theaters nationwide, the total number of screens those companies represent — about 11% in the U.S. — would not have made enough of a dent at the box office for U to back down for that reason alone, sources tell Variety.

That means at least one of the nation’s top two chains, Regal and AMC, likely was bringing its own heat.

Universal declined to comment further to Variety, including regarding inquiries about what, specifically, prompted its strategic U-turn. Studio had been in talks with exhibs going back two years, and Adam Fogelson, along with U’s distribution team, and Comcast reps spearheaded discussions in closed-door conversations with top theater chains after Cinemark’s threat. But it wasn’t known Wednesday to what extent their input influenced the final outcome.

Cinemark, the third-largest theater chain behind Regal and AMC, has always been particularly adamant about maintaining theatrical windows. No surprise, then, that the Plano, Tex.-based company reacted swiftly and sternly last week after Universal outlined plans to rent “Tower Heist” to Comcast digital subscribers in Portland and Atlanta for $60 over the Thanksgiving holiday, just three weeks after the Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy caper opened wide on Nov. 4.

By late morning on Oct. 7, Cinemark made its boycott plans known.

Though the exhib declined to comment further after U’s change of heart, the National Assn. of Theater Owners responded with gratitude on Wednesday.

“NATO would like to thank Universal for responding to various theater owners’ concerns and canceling the PVOD test it was contemplating,” president and CEO John Fithian said in a statement. “They have been engaged with individual exhibitors on this test, and while it was something that many theater owners could not ultimately support, the open and collaborative nature of the dialogue is appreciated.”

That tone is a major shift from back in March, when Variety first reported on wider PVOD plans by four studios: Warner Bros., Sony, Universal and 20th Century Fox. A major complaint at the time from exhibs was that they were not informed or engaged in any way. Universal apparently took to heart the issue of communication, with Regal noting the improved outreach Wednesday:

“Over the past year, as various Premium VOD models have emerged, Universal has consistently sought Regal’s opinion on these ideas,” Regal CEO Amy Miles said in a statement Wednesday. “We appreciate Universal seeking and giving consideration to Regal’s input, particularly with respect to Universal’s evaluation of a strategy for a potential Premium VOD test related to the release of ‘Tower Heist.’ We understand and respect Universal’s interest in finding a successful model for ancillary markets and we remain willing to assist Universal, and our other studio partners, in developing a strategy that is acceptable and productive for both parties.”

Though Universal effectively killed its “Tower Heist” plan with Wednesday’s announcement, it left open the possibility of future early PVOD launches. In fact, the studio characterized the development as a “delay” to its PVOD experiment.

“Universal continues to believe that the theater experience and a PVOD window are business models that can coincide and thrive and we look forward to working with our partners in exhibition to find a way to experiment in this area in the future,” the statement read.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Finding Farideh

    Oscars: Iran Picks Doc 'Finding Farideh' As International Feature Film Contender

    “Finding Farideh,” a feature-length documentary about an Iranian girl adopted at infancy by a Dutch couple who 40 years later travels to Iran in search of her biological parents, is Iran’s candidate for the recently renamed International Feature Film Oscar. Co-directed by young Tehran-based duo Azadeh Mousavi and Kourosh Ataee, the doc bridges East and West. [...]

  • Dogs Don’t Wear Pants

    Buyers Catch Valkeapaa's ‘Dogs Don’t Wear Pants’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rolling off its Cannes Directors’ Fortnight world bow, J.-P. Valkeapää’s BDSM movie “Dogs Don’t Wear Pants” has been sold by The Yellow Affair to new U.K. distributor Anti-Worlds for the U.K. and Ireland, as well as to The Klockworx Co for Japan, Ama Films for Greece, HHG for Russia/CIS, Pilot Film for the Czech Republic [...]

  • 'Kix,' 'Frem' Win Docu Talent Awards

    'Kix,' 'Frem' Win Docu Talent Awards at Sarajevo Film Festival

    Hungary’s “Kix” and Czech Republic’s “Frem” won the Docu Talent Awards, chosen from a field of 10 documentary features from Central and Eastern Europe, at the Sarajevo Film Festival on Sunday. “Kix,” directed by David Mikulan and Balint Revesz, is the story of Sanyi, a troubled youth, as he grows from eight to 18, morphing [...]

  • The Garden

    Bragason Brings ‘Woman at War’s’ Geirharosdottir to ‘The Garden’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Acclaimed actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, best known for “Woman at War,” is set to star in writer/director Ragnar Bragason’s dark comedy “The Garden.” Currently in post-production and to be pitched at Haugesund’s New Nordic Films over Aug. 20-23, “The Garden” is Bragason’s sixth feature and his first one since the 2013 Toronto entry “Metalhead.” “I did [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras to Receive San Sebastian Career Achievement Donostia Award

    Costa-Gavras, the Greek-born France-based director of some of the most famed movies of political cinema, from 1969’s “Z” to 1981’s “Missing,” will receive a career achievement Donostia Award at this September’s 67th San Sebastian Film Festival. The filmmaker will collect his prize on Sept. 21 at a ceremony held at San Sebastian’s Victoria Eugenia, where [...]

  • Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), Leonard (Bill

    China Box Office: New Animations No Match For 'Nezha' Domination

    Chinese animation “Nezha” continued its run as China’s biggest hit of the summer, maintaining its top spot at the box office even 25 days into its run with a weekend gross of $41.2 million. The tally made it this weekend’s fourth highest grossing film worldwide. Meanwhile, two other new animated titles performed unremarkably. The flop of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content