Simultaneous Theater/TV/DVD Release Riles Cinema Owners

It's directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose credits include everything from Sex, Lies, and Videotape to Traffic, Erin Brockovich, and Ocean's Eleven. It's scored by Robert Pollard, the former Guided by Voices leader, composing his first film music. And it's on high-definition video, shot with nonprofessional actors (and no script) for a budget of $1.6 million. How hip is all that?

Yet the main talking point of Bubble, Soderbergh's 73-minute murder mystery in a doll factory, has been its simultaneous appearance in theaters, on TV, and on DVD. Well, almost simultaneous: the same day it debuted on 32 screens, mostly in the Landmark Theatres art-house chain, it was indeed shown on the cable/satellite TV channel HDNet Movies, but the DVD from Magnolia followed four days later.

Still, that was enough to be the first real salvo in the distribution revolution sparked by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner - the owners of Landmark, HDNet Movies, and Magnolia. And it's the first of six Soderbergh salvos to get this so-called "day-and-date" treatment. As Cuban told us at the Consumer Electronics Show after receiving S&V's first Visionary Award: "We're trying to change the model of Hollywood so people can consume content how they want it, when they want it." (For more with the HDNet founder see The Cuban Revolution".)

Big studios like Disney and small ones like IFC Films have expressed interest in simultaneous distribution and are watching how Bubble floats. Watching, too, are theater owners, most of whom are taking a very dim view. Despite the fact that Cuban and Wagner are giving 1% of DVD sales back to theaters that show their films - and those DVDs are priced higher during the theatrical run - "there would be no viable movie-theater industry" in a completely day-and-date world, according to John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners.

And after Bubble's first weekend in theaters, Fithian issued a statement gloating that "the movie has performed very poorly" - earning just $70,664 at the 32 theaters. In a reply, Wagner told Reuters: "It's important to note that this movie was designed for a niche audience. The day-and-date strategy provided an economic framework that let us take a chance on a unique, challenging, and exceptional film and make it profitable." He says the $1.6 million movie should ultimately make $5 million from its various sources.

Then again, Wagner has also said this: "If we are just dead wrong" in doing simultaneous releases, "we are not going to do it anymore."

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