Brett Ratner Not Involved in $59.99 VOD 'Tower Heist' Test

6:47 PM PST 10/05/2011 by Pamela McClintock
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Brett Ratner

Universal and parent company Comcast are making the director's action-comedy available in homes three weeks after it opens in theaters.

In April, Brett Ratner joined James Cameron and 20 or so other directors in opposing a premium VOD test offering movies for $29.99 only 60 days after their theatrical release, saying it would erode the moviegoing experience.

Now, Ratner has found himself involved in the boldest premium VOD test yet -– Universal said Wednesday that the director’s upcoming Tower Heist will be offered to Comcast digital subscribers for $59.99 only three weeks after the action comedy opens in theaters on Nov. 4. The test, designed to gauge consumer interest in such a service, will be conducted in Portland and Atlanta.

A spokesperson for Ratner said the director was not involved in the decision--making process. Tower Heist stars Ben StillerEddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick.

"Brett was made aware of Universal's PVOD experiment with Tower Heist yesterday.  It is a test limited to Portland and Atlanta. Brett was told that the studio is fully protecting the theater owners against losses at the box office. Brett did not participate in the planning of this test,” a spokesperson for Ratner said Wednesday night.

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The outcry over premium VOD erupted in April when exhibitors learned that Universal, Sony, Warner Bros. and Fox were launching the $29.99 service on DirecTV .

Ratner and Cameron were among 23 directors signing an open letter from the National Association of Theater Owners calling upon studios and cable companies to acknowledge that shortening the current theatrical window of 120 days “could irrevocably harm the financial model of our industry,” and that the problem of declining DVD revenues will not be solved by “cannibalizing theatrical ticket sales.”

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Universal insiders say its premium VOD experiment is a different situation, and that Universal chairman Adam Fogelson informed theater owners of the studio’s intention to conduct the test in partnership with its parent company Comcast. Also, NATO's letter had asked for a “seat at the table,” which Universal is honoring by keeping theater owners in the loop.

The National Association of Theater Owners, which is presently holding a meeting in Washington, D.C., with its members, has yet to comment on Universal’s plan.

However, one insider in the exhibition community said theater owners may have been told about Universal’s plan, but have yet to fully endorse it.

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