Exhibition chains won a major battle here in 2011 when they forced Universal to back off its plan to offer the Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy caper comedy Tower Heist on VOD just three weeks after it opened in theaters. But studios remain infatuated with premium VOD — competing with exhibition companies by renting new movies even before they’ve completed their theatrical runs: Theaters in South Korea had Django Unchained for just three weeks before Sony began to rent it online and on cable in April, the Wall Street Journal reports today. And Disney made Wreck-It Ralph available five weeks after its December theatrical debut, following Brave which was up for rental four weeks after it opened in September. Hollywood execs say that theaters typically collect the lion’s share of revenues from a film in just a few weeks, and premium VOD gives studios the opportunity to take advantage of the marketing effort they make to open the movie — while also helping to to make up for some of the revenues they’ve lost as DVD sales decline. “I know that if we don’t experiment we’ll have a business problem that will affect all of us,” Universal Pictures‘ Adam Fogelson told exhibition execs at ther CinemaCon confab in April. “We have to find a way to claw back some of that revenue.” Carmike Cinemas’ David Passman countered that exhibitors just get “one bite at the apple” and “if just one patron chooses not to go, then the exhibitor is hurt.” But he said that there might be room for compromise if they look at “an entirely new model, not just a tweaking of the model…. We need to jointly think of a way to grow the pie.”

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