News Corp. Joining VOD/iTunes/Internet Race Will Give Distributor Partners Heartburn

One of the last hurdles in providing quicker entertainment to consumers will soon be jumped--by none other than Twentieth Century Fox.

News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin told a group of reporters on Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show that Fox is developing a plan to release movies on video-on-demand at the same time as their DVD release. This is no doubt an announcement that will cause home video retailers massive heartburn.

Technology and content have obviously been heading in this quicker-release direction for the company. Last week News Corp. said it would be offering FX TV shows on iTunes on an exclusive basis ahead of their traditional cable telecasts. Later in the year it'll offer a non-exclusive download of Fox network TV shows.

The news of the same-day release of VOD and DVD is somewhat surprising coming from News Corp., since that company has been somewhat on the sidelines, in contrast to other high-profile VOD/iTunes/Internet content deals by media companies in recent weeks.



Still, there is one more piece of the puzzle--offering consumers the same day and date release of movies in VOD with that of their release in movie theaters. This is naturally a touchy area for theater owners, who fear that VOD will steal away business.

Mark Cuban has seemingly conquered this problem by owning both theaters and a digital high-definition movie network. He'll be debuting Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble" in 20 of his Landmark theaters Jan. 27--which will be nearly simultaneously run on his high-definition HDNet Movies channel and have a DVD release on Jan. 31.

Movie and media executives are now ready to trip over themselves rushing content to consumers--and business affiliations be damned.

Media executives must be confident that any damage from traditional business partners can be made up through new business created from the iTunes, Google, and VOD businesses of the world.

Is there a plan? Yes and no. Executives admit they don't know which distribution point will win out, and thus are throwing everything consumers' way so they can decide.

But what about TV stations, home video retailers, and theater owners? Do they have a plan? It just seems like one big scramble to hang on.

For theater owners, maybe it's offering limited exclusive big screen showings; for TV stations, it may be offering up extra, commercial-free, behind-the-scenes content of TV shows; for home video distributors, it may be selling other merchandise or creating in-store free viewing of movies.

One of the last great hurdles for media companies--quicker and more technology-driven entertainment distribution--means other hurdles for their traditional business distribution partners.

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