Technology and demand determine when movies are released on DVD
Most movies are released on DVD and/or Blu-Ray three to six months after their theater run, but many factors determine precisely when a movie becomes available for sale.
Making a movie is a complicated business combining the efforts of numerous entities, such as the production company, and people, including the producer, director, screenwriter, composer, actors, etc. All are critically important, but which one actually owns the copyright to the movie?
Only the film?s owner can release a completed movie to theaters and distribute it on DVD. The issue of ownership rights to a film has been litigated in various courts over the years and current law holds that the film?s ?dominant author? owns it. Unless there are one or more written agreements to the contrary, the ?dominant author? is the production company. The creative input of everyone else is subsumed into the studio?s copyright.
The shrinking DVD release window
Back in the bad old days of VHS tape it took six months or longer for a movie to make its way from theaters to home video release. Even then it usually was released to video rental stores only and not available for sale to the general public. It was not uncommon for someone to wait years before being able to buy a VHS movie and some were never released to the public at all.
With the advent of DVD technology, however, the situation became much better ? and faster ? for people desiring their own home video collection. Since DVDs are much easier and cheaper to produce than VHS tapes, movie production companies quickly discovered that the DVD market could become a major secondary revenue stream. Now the consumer became more important than the rental companies, the theory being that individuals are more likely to buy movies they can?t rent. The result was that many wildly profitable rental companies (think Blockbuster Video) withered and ultimately went out of business.
The digital age arrives
But if video rental stores were dead and gone, the movie rental market was not. It resurrected itself like a phoenix thanks to mobile devices, streaming and downloading technologies, and service providers such as Netflix and Amazon.
The battle between digital distributors and DVD/Blu-Ray merchants continues to rage. Today, with a few exceptions, things stand at a virtual draw when it comes to which medium gets a movie first.
Naturally it?s cheaper to produce shared digital media where the consumer rents a copy of the distributor?s movie for a specified time either by real-time streaming or download to a device. In addition, Amazon has become a major digital player, investing in movies that are then released on Amazon Prime just a month or so after their theater run, ahead of their wider release to DVD and other digital outlets.
Straight to DVD
Despite the digital phenomenon, the home entertainment market remains a multi-billion-dollar business. People love owning their own DVDs to watch on long winter evenings or to entertain the kids on rainy weekends.
An increasing number of movies are released straight to DVD, completely bypassing the silver screen. Again, cost is a major factor. A studio that spends $200 million to produce a movie will spend an additional $50-$100 million to advertise and promote it. Releasing straight to DVD saves this additional cost.
If a movie flops with test audiences, the studio?s decision is clear: forget a theatrical release. Other movies, however, are specifically designed to skip the theaters and go straight to DVD. Disney has been doing this for decades with many of its movies aimed at children. For instance, 1994’s The Return of Jafar, sequel to Aladdin, cost about $5 million to make, but earned Disney a net profit of over $100 million when it sold over 10 million copies in its first six months of DVD release.
The future of DVD movie releases
The movie to DVD market remains in a state of flux as major studios continue seeking new ways to recoup their production costs and increase their profits. Paramount was one of the first studios to make a deal with both AMC Theaters and Cineplex that allowed certain Paramount movies to be available on DVD a mere two weeks after their theater runs.
Not surprisingly, the first two movies under the new contracts were horror films that generally don?t have long runs in theaters. Blockbusters that produce larger box office revenues were and are still protected since the two-week countdown doesn?t begin until a movie is playing in fewer than 300 theaters nationwide.
Nevertheless, as time and technology go marching on, movie collectors can be assured that they will be able to buy their latest favorite flick on DVD more or less immediately after seeing it in their local theater.