Ask a Dork: Home Releases
“Why do you think the turnaround between theatrical release and home release has shortened so much in recent years?”
I remember back in the hazy age of VHS how long it would take for wide-span release (between 160 to 240 days, depending on the publisher). The common statement offered by these companies was something along the lines of, “The health of the home video market is maintained by a steady flow of new releases.” Of course, this was back in the time of Blockbuster stores (of which I am an alumni) being on every street corner and a severe lack of audience-empowering internet. Bootlegging happened, but it was hardly as widespread or easy as piracy has become since the mainstreaming of the internet.
Publishers will still say otherwise, but a big problem of not having a quick turnaround time on recent box office flicks is a loss of attention. Part of this can be attributed to our internet attuned culture. Now, more than ever, our society has become ADD to the max. There is always something to see, something to play, and something else to talk about. The hype which would normally stick with major motion pictures just isn’t there anymore. To wait more than half a year for a home release of your non-blockbuster flick is consumer suicide these days. By that point, your audience will have moved on to other things or possibly already found a passable theatrical bootleg to rip and distribute. Worse, while they’ll remember the Star Wars and Quentin Tarantino flicks, less notable films wouldn’t have a shot in turning a decent profit on home releases (which is where any director will tell you the REAL money gets made).
A change in home media platforms is another factor. VHS was a decent enough medium for its time (I realize we all have fond, nostalgia-induced memories of it), but was also hard to convert for and extremely time consuming to distribute — especially if it was a “big-box” release. DVD was also challenging to convert for when it was first introduced, but that changed as on-site production and editing tools became more advanced. We now live in an age of Blu-ray and digital copies; providing your motion picture is edited on a computer (and most these days are), it can be thrown onto a Blu-ray disk or the internet with great ease. So why don’t we get home releases immediately after a theatrical release?
Well, there are a few factors which contribute to home releases still being a few months out from theatrical releases. Firstly, someone needs to advertise that it’s now coming to consumer friendly formats. Television/YouTube commercials, print advertisements, internet advertisements, tweets, Tumblr/Facebook posts, and radio plugs have to be crafted and ready to go upon distribution. They also have to print all of the DVDs and Blu-rays before they can be shipped. It’s also clear that the better a film does at the box office, the longer it stays at the box office before leaving theatres. By extension the better a film does at the box office, the longer the wait until the flick hits home media. The next part of the formula is where it gets sticky though.
Just because a film can have all of its disks produced, marketing ready, and distribution channels prepared in two months doesn’t mean it will hit DVD/Blu-ray/On Demand/the Internet at that point. Much like new album releases, production houses carefully select the day in which they seek to release their film based on how much competition there is for that day. Would you really want to release your B-movie on the same day that a handful of major blockbuster successes hit home media? Of course not; you’d get completely overshadowed.
That’s about it though. I can’t see the gap between theatrical release and home release shorting much more than it already has (unless publishers want to fundamentally change the landscape of the film entertainment industry). It’s a considerably shorter wait for home media than it used to be, but for now there does have to be a buffer zone.