Comcast Latest to Close Theater Window

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Comcast Corp. joined Cablevision Systems Corp. last week in closing windows, or debuting films from IFC Entertainment on the same day as those features appear in independent movie theaters.

The latest break with the convention of releasing movies first to theaters and then to cable came Friday. The movie: Sorry, Haters, starring Robin Wright Penn and Sandra Oh.

Big-screen viewers could see the movie at independent theaters in New York and Los Angeles, while 8 million Comcast Digital Cable subscribers had access to the movie from their on-demand menu, for $5.99.

That means independent film buffs who might never see that movie in theaters in Detroit, Denver or Fort Myers, Fla., could watch it the same day as the theatrical release, via Comcast.

“This agreement creates a national art house for independent film lovers across the country and ensures, for the first time, that first-run films will be made available theatrically and on-demand simultaneously,” said IFC Entertainment President Jonathan Sehring.

Typically, IFC releases movies in a handful of theaters in New York and Los Angeles. If the movie does well, it will spread to other major cities, perhaps hitting 50 theaters. An independent movie that does well in those markets, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, might spread to 1,000 theaters nationwide.

IFC hopes the on-demand exposure will not only drive higher revenue for the films, but provide enough marketing buzz that theaters in smaller cities will want to present it.

The deal could also help Comcast in its quest to break through windows, which, in effect, delay when a cable operator can show a popular movie. “All of us are looking at the windows,” said News Corp. president and chief operating officer Peter Chernin last week, during a Bear Stearns & Co. analyst conference in Palm Beach, Fla. “These things need adjustment.”

Chernin said News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox Film Corp. division has offered cable and satellite operators high-definition movies, concurrent with their home video release, 60 days after theatrical release for $25 to $30 — a slight premium over today’s DVD pricing. More than 1 million people have spent $25,000 or more to build a high-definition home theater set-up in their homes, he said.

The $25 to $30 rental would be designed for those people, he said. “We think this is a big new additive market that won’t cannibalize the existing market.”

Last week, Cablevision launched a subscription video-on-demand service built around the films IFC is releasing on the same day as they go into theaters. The service, which will also include Independent Film Channel-produced TV programs, will be marketed for $4.99 a month.

IFC plans to release “at least 24 films” in 2006 on the same day in theaters and on-demand.

Upcoming movies include CSA: The Confederate States of America, executive produced by Spike Lee; I Am A Sex Addict, 2005’s Gotham Award winner for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You; Three Times, named 2005’s Best Undistributed Film by the Village Voice’s National Critics Poll, and Russian Dolls.

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