‘Piranha 3DD’ faces day-and-date test

Dimension sequel set for limited release, VOD on Friday

Dimension Films is counting on new waters to help keep “Piranha 3DD” afloat.

The Weinstein Co. arm is supplementing its limited release Friday of the sequel to its surprise 2010 hit with day-and-date distribution across multichannel VOD and digital platforms including Facebook. Title is the first-ever 3D release in this early window, though some outlets like Apple’s iTunes will only carry standard and high-definition versions for $6.99, a dollar cheaper than the 3D version.

“3DD” is opening in just 75 theaters and not likely to expand beyond 100. The movie, which isn’t being screened for critics, was made for less than $10 million. That’s less than half of the original, which went on to gross a tidy $83 million worldwide.

Starz Digital Media is handling distribution of “Piranha 3DD” for Dimension as part of a distribution deal struck in January 2011 between TWC and Starz subsidiary Anchor Bay Entertainment. TWC also owns a 25% stake in Starz Media.

Since that agreement was made, Starz has been eager to experiment with day-and-date distribution on a TWC film. The studio agreed “Piranha 3DD” would be a good fit given the brand recognition the original film brings to the marketplace, where its youth appeal would play well on new platforms.

And by tacking on a digital component to its theatrical distribution strategy, Starz and Weinstein may be aiming to eke out more for the film than it might otherwise garner from the direct-to-DVD route where many low-budget sequels end up.

In markets that aren’t part of the theatrical footprint, a day-and-date release will keep viewers from having to wait until the movie makes it into the home video window. However, it’s also possible that fans who might otherwise see the film in theaters will opt to stay home instead, even in markets where “Piranha 3DD” is playing theatrically.

That risk has made even the prospect of releases from major studios going day-and-date something of a nuclear option given outrage from exhibitors, most notably when Universal Pictures announced its intent last year to go to VOD just three weeks after theatrical on comedy “Tower Heist.” But the studio backed down after experiencing considerable backlash.

“Given this isn’t a 3,000-theater release, it’s not going to jeopardize the exhibition business,” said Mara Winokur, senior VP of digital media distribution at Starz Media.

Dimension knows all too well that the traditional distribution routes of theatrical and DVD can spell disappointment for sequels given the modest returns for the latest installments of once-flourishing franchises like “Spy Kids” and “Scream.”

Among the places where “Piranha 3DD” will be available outside theaters include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, Dish, Verizon, XBox Live, Google Play, Amazon, Sony Playstation and Vudu.

3D glasses aren’t being made available for “Piranha 3DD,” leaving it up to consumers to scare up the red-and-blue lenses suitable for the anaglyph 3D format. While that’s all that would be needed for watching on PC or wireless devices, watching “Piranha 3DD” on TV in 3D would also require a subscription to a multichannel service capable of transmitting 3D images to a 3D-enabled TV set.