A few years ago what I’m about to say would have been unthinkable. Now it’s just wise. In a couple of years it’s going to be obvious.
Paramount should have Paranormal Activity DVDs in every Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Rite Aid, and grocery store in America on Friday October 30th, sitting right next to the Halloween candy and costumes.
Yes, I know the film will still be in theaters on October 30th. And yes, I know that at this point it’s technically impossible for Paramount to pull this off, but that’s why I think they’re throwing away millions and millions of dollars.
The film has already made an incredible return for a studio that was very much thinking about throwing it in the vault forever, and I think it has injected some much-needed life into the modern movie marketing paradigm. But by deciding to keep with a standard DVD release window, Paramount is losing out.
The buzz on Paranormal Activity is hottest right now. In fact, it may have peaked last weekend. The film will likely be a major Halloween destination for many viewers, and it’s possible that it could cut down Saw VI. But the reality is that there are a lot of people who will never get off their couch to see this film (or most any film), even though they’re very aware of the level of hype and excitement. These people are the prime target for a close to day and date home video release of the film. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that this movie might very well work better at home, earning even bigger buzz.
There’s currently no home video release date for Paranormal Activity, but general wisdom indicates it’ll be hitting DVD and Blu-Ray around January or February. Paramount might opt to hold it back a year to debut it next Halloween, but with their general fiscal situation, I doubt that’ll be the case. So a DVD release in first quarter 2010, a time when the haunting season is over and well after the film’s biggest buzz has subsided. The movie will likely do well on home video, but the DVD market isn’t what it once was.
But if the DVD were to show up in every store in the country on 10/30 (and probably on Xbox Live and local cable video on demand), Paramount could capitalize not only on the massive interest in the film but also on the Halloween spirit. It’s a perfect storm, and consumers who were never going to hit theaters are suddenly dropping 15 bucks on the movie. And even with the DVD available, I bet that theaters would fill up on Halloween weekend because there’s an element of the audience who will always seek out the communal scare.
The 10/30 DVD would be bare bones, with absolutely nothing on it. This allows a double dip in the first quarter of 2010 with a commentary and a documentary about the audience experience and the ‘Demand it’ campaign to entice collectors. Piracy of course remains an issue; it seems that Paramount has been flooding the Torrentsphere with fakes of the film, but by the time the movie opens wider it will be available on the internet anyway. But the people who would be picking up Paranormal Activity on Friday probably aren’t the people who will be pirating the film, and my experience tells me that the pirates don’t go to the movies anyway. In fact, I believe that a DVD available on 10/30 could cut into piracy, as well-meaning but morally vague folks who pirate because they hate going to the theater but intend to buy on DVD could actually make good on that intention.
Despite the fact that Paramount isn’t doing this, this is the future. A tiered release system where a theatrical run serves as a buzz builder for an almost immediate DVD/Blu/VOD release is coming, whether anyone likes it or not. The theatrical experience won’t die, and in fact it’ll become more like Paranormal Activity‘s run – event based, exciting and special. But the current system is creaky and expensive, and it can’t hold. In five years you’ll be watching more first run movies that premiere on your cable VOD system then you watch films in theaters. The era of only New York and LA getting movies is already over – Antichrist hits VOD before it hits theaters, and I bet it does good business in both arenas. Some folks want the full package, some folks want the easy way.
Paramount has proven themselves very smart with a marketing strategy that managed to sell a small, star-free, unique film, which is the ultimate challenge in today’s marketplace and why so many films either don’t get made or never get distributed. They’re the heroes of the moment. They’ll take this $11,000 film to 40 or 50 million dollars. But if they had trucks rolling out across the country with Paranormal Activity DVDs, they’d be geniuses. And they’d be looking at dollar figures double, triple or quadruple what they’re taking in theatrically.