We've been hearing a lot about "pay windows" over the past few
months. For example, in August last year the Competition Commission
provisionally concluded that Sky's control of pay-TV movie rights
was having an adverse effect on competition. Sky, as you know,
currently has a lock on the "first pay" window. In other words, it
has exclusive agreements with all of the major studios (except
StudioCanal and Entertainment One) that allows it to be the first
subscription service to offer new movies you can watch on
television (and PC / tablet) at home.
At the same time both Lovefilm and Netflix have been doing deals
with the studios so that they can stream TV shows and films in the
"second pay" window - around 6 months after the first pay window.
And in the US, some companies like DirecTV, have experimented with
"premium VOD" windows that, for the same price as 2 cinema tickets,
let you watch a brand new movie - which is still on theatrical
release - at home.
Lines are blurring and the terminology can get confusing so
here's our first-draft guide to pay windows for TV and movies in
some sort of chronological order.
1. The "Theatrical"
This is nice and straightforward. Or at least it used to be
before premium VOD was introduced. The theatrical window is simply
the time when a movie can be shown in a theatre. Depending on the
film itself, the studio that made it and agreements that the
distributors have struck, a movie normally plays in a cinema for
between 4 - 8 weeks.
2. The "Airplane /
Did you think that the DVD window would come straight after the
theatrical window? I did. But no, after 'theatrical' comes the
Airplane / Hotel window - a time when you can watch movies that are
sometimes still on at the cinema, on a flight or in a hotel room.
Again, depending on the distribution deal, airlines and hotel
chains can 'broadcast' (aircast? leisurecast?) TV shows and movies
within a week of theatrical release.
3. The "DVD Buy"
The DVD Buy window is, as the name suggests, the time when you
can buy the DVD of a movie that was lately on at the theatre. Or
one that was so terrible it bypassed the cinema altogether. The
latest Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. And Jude
Law, for example, will be available to buy on 14 May 2012. The 'DVD
Buy' window normally opens between 3 to 6 months after theatrical
4. The "Rental"
You might think as soon as a DVD is available to buy you'll be
able to get down to your local Blockbuster and pick it up for rent
immediately. But again, this isn't the case. And once again it's
all down to the distribution agreements that have been made. DVDs
can become available for rent usually between one and four weeks
after the 'Buy' window opens.
5. The "Pay-per-View"
Window aka TVOD (Transactional Video-on-Demand)
Ever watched a movie on Sky Box Office, Lovefilm Box Office,
Blinkbox or Acetrax? If so, you've used TVOD - you've paid (made a
single transaction) to rent a movie to view online or via IPTV. The
pay-per-view window that allows for TVOD is distinct from the
'Rental' window in that it doesn't involve renting a physical asset
like a DVD / Blu-ray disc. The PPV window normally opens within
weeks of the rental window.
6. The "First Pay"
Window aka the "Sky" Window aka SVOD (Subscription
The first pay window is the first time a movie can be shown on a
consumer platform (television, computer, tablet, mobile) to
subscribers of a given service - in the UK, that's
currently Sky for films from all studios except StudioCanal and
Entertainment One who have exclusive deals with Lovefilm. Different
to TVOD (you're not paying one movie at a time), the first pay
window normally opens around 6 months after theatrical release.
7. The "Second Pay"
Not so long ago there was no such thing as video-on-demand. You
either watched a movie at the cinema or waited till it was on video
/ DVD, or waited again until it came to Sky or finally, waited
again until the film was on regular television around Christmas
time two years later. This delay between a movie airing on Sky
versus airing on terrestrial TV was a big gap that distributors
happily found they could fill with the second pay window - the time
when you can watch a film, on demand, online and on a platform of
your choice. If you've ever used Lovefilm - or now Netflix - in the
UK, you've encountered the second pay window. In theory everyone
wins here - consumers gets films a little bit faster, studios get
paid for another round of distribution.
8. The "Terrestrial"
The movie, having been marketed to death in all of the previous
windows, now finally arrives on regular television. It's been two
years since it was on at the cinema. Enjoy!