The phenomenal pay-per-view success of Buena Vista's The Sixth Sense shouldn't have surprised anyone. For years, PPV veterans have predicted that strong box-office titles would draw high buy-rates and generate millions of dollars in PPV revenue with short, 30-day windows backed by substantial marketing efforts.
The fact that The Sixth Sense will pull in around $8 million through PPV, breaking all PPV-movie records, isn't raising eyebrows in the industry. What's more interesting to operators is that the studios aren't providing the same opportunity for other top movies to thrive on PPV.
Buena Vista, In Demand, DirecTV Inc. and other PPV distributors showed how effective and lucrative PPV can be when all parties are on the same page, working together.
Even though Buena Vista insisted on an upfront buy-rate guarantee for the title, it was willing to take a chance and test the theory that most PPV executives have espoused since the industry launched some 20 years ago.
That theory: If you give operators a well-known title with a short run in the home-video stores, it has a very good chance of attracting a large number of cable viewers who may not have seen the movie; who wanted to see the movie but couldn't find it at the video store; or who wanted to see the film again.
With digital offering near-video-on-demand plays of films every 15 to 30 minutes, the opportunities for consumers to purchase the films expand exponentially. The combination of a short window and more frequent plays certainly enhances PPV's value to the consumer.
Add to that a strong promotional campaign that touts PPV's attributes-much like In Demand and Buena Vista did here-and the movie is almost as destined for financial success as the next World Wrestling Federation PPV event.
Yet studios have been very reluctant to follow the blueprint for PPV-movie success. Whether it's fear of retaliation from the very formidable Video Software Dealers Association or concerns that the PPV industry will be inconsistent with its support of short-window movies, most studios won't even entertain the thought of 30-day PPV windows.
Much has been made about the effect of short PPV windows on movies' home-video-rental sales. And while The Sixth Sense's video sales did fall 39 percent after the movie hit digital cable, even video retailers conceded that the film was in its home-video decline after one month of near-record-breaking sales.
And how much of a negative impact can PPV have on home-video rentals when fewer than 5 percent of all cable homes have access to 30-day titles in a digital environment?
Meanwhile, In Demand and DirecTV stand ready to do whatever it takes to effectively market and promote box-office hits with short home-video windows.
Now is a perfect time for studios to finally see if PPV can deliver on its promise. With digital still in a limited number of homes, studios should provide movies with short PPV windows and give the industry the opportunity to prove whether it can return significant revenue.
Hollywood has little to lose and, judging by the results of The Sixth Sense, an enormous amount of revenue to gain.