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Why 'The Fighter,' Other Contenders Are Suddenly on iTunes

Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right
Focus Features

A week after Fox Searchlight changed history by putting Black Swan, 127 Hours and Conviction on iTunes for almost 100,000 SAG voters, Focus Features today adds The Kids Are All Right and Paramount adds The Fighter to the iTunes screener tsunami. Big bucks, big stakes, big news.

Why the stampede to give Screen Actors Guild members instant access to the hottest movies of the moment on  iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, PC, and HDTV with Apple TV? Because Oscar ballots are pretty much in, the Globe PR tsunami hits Sunday, and SAG voters still have a couple weeks to vote.

Purists (especially those whose work is better perceived in theaters than on matchbook size screens, like cinematographers) are squawking, but studios find it irresistible to save money and promote actors in this year's remarkably tight races. "You can't watermark SAG [screeners]," says a studio publicist. "So the two factors to sending to SAG are, is your film in commercial DVD release? Because if something's in commercial DVD release you get a really cut rate, it's probably 4-5 bucks a pop to send to each person, whereas if you have to have some sort of security measures and tracking, it could get up to 9 and 10 bucks a pop. And with 95,000 people, the spectrum can go anywhere from $400,000 to a million. They talk about how cost effective it was."

It's also psychologically effective. The races are so close, everybody needs to take a closer look. I hear the purists, but it's got to make a fairer election when more people are apt to spend their long holiday doing their homework. Here's who's in play on SAG's iTunes quintuple feature:

The Kids Are All Right's cast

Annette Bening for best actress

Mark Ruffalo for supporting actor

The Fighter's cast

Christian Bale for supporting actor

Amy Adams for supporting actress

Melissa Leo for supporting actress

Black Swan's cast

James Franco for best actor

Natalie Portman for best actress

Mila Kunis for supporting actress

Hilary Swank for best actress

For me, the most interesting wrinkle is that SAG voters will have a chance to look hard at Amy Adams' and Melissa Leo's competing performances. With iTunes or without, their high-stakes bout threatens to alter the race by splitting the vote, which could hurt The Fighter's chances.