Until now Hollywood has been somewhat hesitant to embrace the idea of releasing its major films as downloadable, digital copies. Sure, most films eventually see a digital release, but it’s been standard practice to only offer such a thing once a movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD. Twentieth Century Fox however, has decided to buck this trend, and will be releasing its future films in digital format prior to their Blu-ray and DVD releases.
The studio will launch the effort September 18 by releasing Prometheus – Fox‘s biggest title so far this year — three weeks ahead of DVD and Blu-ray, and VOD. There’ll also be more than 600 films offered under the program branded Digital HD. The big change, though, is that Fox now plans to offer movies ahead of traditional home video, in most cases by about two weeks. It will do that with upcoming releases including Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Watch, and Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Amazon, CinemaNow (Best Buy), iTunes, PlayStation, VUDU (Walmart), and Xbox are on board to sell the films — likely for just under $15. That would represent a discount from previous movie downloads, which typically sold for about $20.
That’s great news for anyone who hates maintaining a large collection of discs, but as Deadline points out, the arrangement could prove complicated for those who want to stream their digital movies at will. In short, the site worries that since existing digital content providers like Apple (iTunes), Amazon and even Wal*Mart all offer their own rules and restrictions for streaming movie content, that users who purchase a Fox film on one format may eternally be locked into that particular service when/if they hope to watch whichever movie they’ve purchased.
That’s a reasonable concern, though we feel the more pressing issue is that of Digital Rights Management. Presumably the executives at Fox will have doused the studio’s movies in a thick coat of DRM before they hit the information superhighway to prevent piracy of these films, and this leads us to believe that, as usual, the DRM will cause more problems than it solves. Or, failing that, pirates will crack the DRM so quickly and with such aplomb that Fox will roll back this plan and blame the scary ol’ Internet for crushing its dreams of profit.
That said, we’re glad to see Fox putting this idea into action. Not only because we hate having a shelf full of Blu-ray discs that could just as easily store books or tiny porcelain figurines, but also because that hypothetical situation involving pirates we just mentioned is almost certain to occur. Unless you’re a movie executive or own Fox stock, the company’s reaction to such a situation should prove entertaining (or, at the very least, provide plenty of news for us to write about).