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Sony and Disney to test streaming movies while still in theaters as counter-piracy measure


A new on-demand service unveiled in South Korea is a testing ground to see whether streaming movies that are still playing in theaters might be an effective tool to combat rampant piracy in Asia, leading to questions on whether such a model could work stateside, too.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the two companies have pioneered the idea of consumers choosing to buy a movie ticket to watch it on the big screen, or at home using a streaming, cable or satellite option. Django Unchained, Wreck-It Ralph and Brave are three movies that have been offered in this way as part of the trial.

South Korea is the world’s eighth-largest film market, and at the top of broadband Internet penetration and speed, making it an ideal test ground for high-quality streaming. Being the top film market, the U.S. hasn’t really done much in this area, save for the time director Shane Carruth put his movie, Upstream Colors on iTunes and Amazon Instant only a month after its theatrical release. Steven Soderbergh did one better by releasing his movie, Bubbles, in theaters, DVD and on-demand on the same day.

Disney’s only previous attempt at something like this was in Portugal in 2011, where there was a six-week window for its animated move, Tangled. The typical window is 17 weeks, and the studio never tried a similar test again.

The move is likely to be very unpopular with theater chains, none of which would benefit from having fewer consumers go to the movies. Currently, there is an exclusive 90-day window that theaters have for showing new films, all but ensuring that consumers looking to watch at home will turn to piracy to see them. The studios are looking to curb that trend in order to get people to watch legally and not lose out on revenue.

There’s no word on how long the experiment will go for, and what metrics the studios are using to gauge its success, but other studios are probably watching closely to see how it all unfolds. Theater chains will be doing the same, and perhaps quietly hoping for a lackluster showing to protect that coveted 90-day window.

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