Comcast Corp. and Universal Pictures are launching a test program that will provide Comcast subscribers access to films that are still in theaters. Film rentals will be priced at $59.99 and rolled out in both Atlanta, Georgia as well as Portland, Oregon to start. The program is ideally geared towards families that easily end up spending between $40 to $60 for movie tickets when visiting the theater as well as money on concessions. Comcast will launch this program nineteen days after the launch of Tower Heist on November 4, a comedy starring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick and Casey Affleck. Comcast subscribers using HDTV set-tops will be able to order the film for $59.99 on November 23 in time for Thanksgiving weekend.
Films will be available to watch for 48 hours after purchase and the initial test will be available to approximately half a million people within the two major cities. Universal is also attempting to use copy protection measures to prevent a high-quality version of the film from showing up on torrent sites. Pricing is very similar to the cost of live-broadcasts of sporting events such as title fights. This service from Comcast is very similar to DirecTV’s partnership with Sony Corp., Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures which allows access to first-run movies approximately 60 days after release. The “Home Premiere” service from DirecTV costs $29.99.
Movie theater chains have already been fighting DirecTV’s service and will likely go after Comcast for the extremely short time between the release of the movie and the launch of the VoD alternative. Directors Michael Bay and James Cameron have also spoke out against the home delivery service for new films as they value the theater experience for their films. There’s also concern from industry analysts that a video-on-demand alternative will eat into physical media sales. New releases typically take between three to six months to reach formats such as DVD and Blu-ray.