Theater Owners Win Game Of Chicken With Universal

Movie theater owners successfully stared down Universal Pictures, which planned to release the Ben Stiller comedy Tower Heist on video on demand three weeks after it debuted in theaters. After a large contingent of theaters vowed not to play the movie if Universal stuck to the plan, the studio backed down.

According to Deadline, the National Association of Theatre Owners isn’t gloating over the victory. In a statement, the organization’s president and CEO said he understands where studios are coming from when they go looking for other revenue streams with newfangled on-demand plans:

“NATO would like to thank Universal for responding to various theater owners’ concerns and cancelling the PVOD test it was contemplating. 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. NATO recognizes that studios need to find new models and opportunities in the home market, and looks forward to distributors and exhibitors working together for their mutual benefit.”

Universal’s statement indicates that a future release of a major movie on demand at the same time it plays in theaters is inevitable:

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.

UPDATE: Universal Halts ‘Tower Heist’ VOD Plan As Exhibitors Agree To Further Talks [Deadline via Hollywood Elsewhere]

Previously: Some Theaters Refuse To Show Movie That Will Go On Demand 3 Weeks Later


Edit Your Comment

  1. Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

    NATO should try making the movie-going experience less miserable for the average movie-goer instead of pitching a hissy fit about when something is available on demand.

    • PercyChuggs Was Found At JFK Airport says:

      The last 9 times I’ve been to movies, the experience has been just fine. Go to the Saturday afternoon show, $5 for a ticket, $1.69 for some Mike and Ike’s across the street at the Kwik Trip, and I’m good to go.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Percy, we don’t agree on much, you and I; but today we can agree on this.

        • PercyChuggs Was Found At JFK Airport says:

          Too many people go to the newest, biggest movie on a Friday or Saturday night, and then complain when the theater is packed with mouthbreathers who do nothing but text on their phones or eat loudly. What do you expect? The more people who are at the show, the better the chances that some of them are completely inconsiderate pricks.

          • GrimJack says:

            The good old days of movie-going – when everyone wore a hat, and films were viewed through a thick cloud of cigarette smoke :)

          • TacoDave says:

            Sadly, I’ve found that if there are only two other people in the entire theater they still act up. They choose the seats directly in front of me, open individually-wrapped-in-cellophane candies ever three minutes, and pull out their cell phones about once every half hour.

      • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

        $9 for a ticket. No outside food allowed. Mouthbreathers in every show regardless of day of week or time of day.

        You must live in a flyover state.

  2. [redacted] says:

    Congrats Theaters, you saved yourself from all that business you would have lost.

  3. WarOtter - I went to Japan and all I got was this tumor. says:

    Clearly this Ben Stiller shitfest will save the theater industry, or what they laughingly refer to as NATO.


  4. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    Why doesn’t NATO just bomb the shit out of them?

  5. agent 47 says:

    Is anyone really going to see that movie?

    Oh wait, I remember people laughing hysterically at the Zoo Keeper trailer, so sure, why not this movie…

  6. mauispiderweb says:

    Psst … hey, Universal … try that PVOD thing with a movie starring someone people actually want to see.

  7. jrwn says:

    How about theaters give out free pop/pop corn the day it goes to on demand, then advertise it!!

    Not that I would see this movie.

  8. fatediesel says:

    I’ll be curious how the theaters will react if a studio tries to do this with a movie like The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises. This Stiller movie won’t be a big hit so if they didn’t show it they wouldn’t lose a lot of money but would they boycott the movie if it was a blockbuster?

    • Xmar says:

      Theatre chains usually stick together when it comes to what they view as attacks on the health of the theatre industry from the studios. Studios will get a massive cut (98%+) of the box office receipts for a movie. Back in the day, Sony tried to muscle in on the concessions sales as well. Sony wanted a percent of concession sales for the first X amount of weeks.

      They were trying to do this with what was suppose to be their big summer blockbuster. (Godzilla?)

      Theatre chains banded together & refused. Sony backed down.

  9. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:


    What the hell does the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have anything to do with this?

    • dolemite says:

      That’s what I was wondering…you can’t have the same acronym as a major world force.

      • minjche says:

        That may explain why my meat-packing and fur-trading business called “Pete’s Extra Tasty Animals” hasn’t been going over so well.

  10. jvanbrecht says:

    The movie choice was a disaster.. However, if I was universal.. I would have said f it, screw the theaters, and release the movie of choice (preferably something without Stiller) the same day as it was supposed to be released in theaters for the same price it would have cost to go to the theater.. $10 to $15, on pay per view.

    My guess.. is that if it was a popular movie, the studio would likely make significantly more money then if it was shown in the theaters..

    • PLATTWORX says:

      Without the studios, the theatre chains can’t exist as they supply their product. Theatre chains are not going to start shooting their own films.

      If I was Universal, I would have released this movie on VOD the DAY it was available to theaters at $19.99. This film isn’t going to rake in big money either way (Ben Stiller?) that would be a test of how strong VOD is right now and teach the theatres to do as they are told.

  11. dobi says:

    What this post doesn’t mention is that the VOD offering was three weeks after release for a cost of $60. Previously, a VOD offering costing $30 was presented, but still… who the heck wants to pay that much for a VOD?

    • Hank Scorpio says:

      For a family or a group of friends, it would likely be cheaper than going to the theater, especially if you add in concessions.

    • Gamereviewgod says:

      I can see it making sense for kids movies. Have three kids and they want to see the latest animated feature? $60 at home where the movie can be paused for bathroom breaks and kids aren’t screaming for candy annoying others? It’s worth it.

      For Tower Heist though? No, no.

      • dolemite says:

        For $60, I would have to invite every kid in the neighborhood and charge $5 admission.

      • Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

        I would just as soon wait until it comes out on DVD before I would pay that much for a kid’s movie. There’s nothing that my kids *have* to see right when it comes out. Actually, they can just make do with weird dollar-store movies like I did. (Heathcliff and german Snow White FTW)

    • WarOtter - I went to Japan and all I got was this tumor. says:

      Actually the three week delay is mentioned in the first sentence. So were you just looking for any story related to this to post your own article, original post content be damned?

  12. Hank Scorpio says:

    Let us close our eyes;
    outside their lives go on much faster.
    Oh, we won’t give in,
    we’ll keep living in the past.

  13. valkyrievf2x says:

    After seeing this, I kinda wonder: why can’t ALL theater chains band together and actually work out a better deal with the studios than they currently get. Seems like they need each other exclusively (lord knows studios don’t want direct to DVD releases for fear of piracy and the stigma associated with it, and studios need the films to sorta stay alive….sorta. They make more from concessions than the film itself…odd business model). As I understand it, a movie that is hot for two weeks then drops off sharply makes the studio a killing, but almost none for the theater. A movie like Titanic that plays for months on end makes the theater far more money, but movies are far and few in between. Seems like theaters get the short end of the stick, and us customers are the ones that pay for it.

    Maybe if the theaters get either a bigger cut of the movie, or at least redistribute it so that they essentially don’t get the left overs of the movie’s income, maybe they won’t have to charge so damn much for concessions… Assuming they bother to lower the concessions lmao.

  14. mauispiderweb says:

    I rarely go to the movies, but the biggest draw to me is the huge screen. I certainly wouldn’t want to pay the $60 to watch it on a 40″ LCD.

  15. Bernardo says:

    And we lose. As I said in the last post on this subject, I would gladly pay more to avoid the movie theater “experiance” alltogether. Its going to happen. It already has begun thanks to Amazon on demand. I have been renting indie flicks before they are shown and during. The last time there was a film festival in the city, I rented the movies while they were still being shown. All for &10.00 HD. I would have paid 3-4 times that.

    I see this happening more oftern. The theaters wont win. Soon a majority of releases will be PPV. I see Movie theaters becoming a niche place in the future where they improve teh movie theater experiance for adults only and actully start giving a damn. The movie experiance will get back to the way they used to be and chains will start offering more and better services. It will be a place where indie flicks shine and blockbusters get the best possible screens. They will need to do this since we will all be renting movies way way cheaper at home.

    • George4478 says:

      How did “we” lose?

      People willing to pay $60 to see it VOD 3 weeks after release lost. Not sure this group even exists.

      People planning to see it VOD at some point in the future lost nothing

      People waiting for the DVD release lost nothing.

      People going to see it in the boycotting theaters WON.

      This “we”, as a generality, does not exist.

      • tkmluv says:

        I would be willing to pay $60 to see a movie 3 weeks after it is released. Lets look at the costs:

        2 Adults – $20
        Concessions – $15
        Babysitter – $20 (if we can find one)

        So the cost is close the same. Right now, we have only been to the movies twice a year since our son was born. Before that, we went every couple of weeks. There are a lot of movies out there that we want to see but can’t.

        I don’t care about the large screen or what have you. I just want to enjoy the story. I can do that fine at home. I am looking forward to when this is generally available.

  16. leylan says:

    I’m still laughing about the fact that they so self-indulgently call themselves “NATO.” :-D

  17. mbd says:

    The National Association Of Theatre Owners pre-dates the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by several decades. I guess the participating governments in NATO wanted to seen as being as strong as the participating theatre owners in NATO…

  18. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    Now if the studios would release movies that are worth going to see in the first place…

  19. Blueskylaw says:

    This is like professional athletes fighting their owner for millions in salary, no matter which one of them wins, we still lose.

  20. PLATTWORX says:

    Went to the movies last weekend for the first time in over a year or so. Was suprised to see it is now $11 per person! Heck, I can buy the DVD for less if I wait a few months.

    Why the NATO thought more than a handful of people would pay $60 to rent a Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy movie as VOD escapes me. It had to be the bigger point… not this film.

  21. Such an Interesting Monster says:

    This clearly shows that movie theaters can exert great power against the studios when they choose to. It pretty much makes all their excuses as to why the movie going experience has become so shitty complete bullshit. Like how we need to sit thru 20 minutes of commercials and pay $6 for $0.25 worth of popcorn and soda because the big bag studios force them to by stealing all their ticket revenue. Uh-huh. Suuuuuure.

  22. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Yes, but they will always do this with shitty movies. There are no good major movies anymore.

    People who want the theater experience (big speakers, huge screen, artery-clogging popcorn, etc.) will still go to the theater. Let managers enforce some of the no-talking, no-phone, no-rugrats-in-R-movies-after-six rules and the experience will be better. Maybe the rest of us who don’t go anymore will do so at that point.

    I’m still dying to try the Alamo place everyone keeps talking about someday. That’s the kind of theater I would patronize.

  23. Anna Kossua says:

    Sixty dollars!? If you earn $12 USD per hour at your job, you would have to work an hour overtime every day for a week, to pay to see that film. (Less of course if you factor in overtime pay.) Who wants to work for 5 hours just to see a 1.5 hour movie that’ll probably be stupid anyway?

    I’m not sure what kind of delusional, parallel universe these Hollywood moguls live in, but it must be nice!