So, in the wake of all the hype and worry about Steven Soderbergh's Bubble, Craig Mazin over at The Artful Writer concludes that (at least in this particular case) it was much ado about nothing:
B-Day happened, and shock of all shocks...Hollywood got had.
[The] Bubble strategy was clearly about hype. This is a film that, by all accounts, shouldn't have gotten a theatrical release at all. The movie grossed about $70,000 on its opening weekend. It was only in 32 theaters, but its average was a rather anemic $2200, well below what you'd hope to see for an arthouse movie.
Similarly, no one watches HD Net.
Craig goes on to argue that it's in the interests of studios to perpetuate the extant studio system for every kind of film except those they expect to bomb in the theaters:
Is there a shrinking window between [theatrical and DVD release]? Yes. Is that because of piracy? In part. You'll find that the window is much smaller for bombs. Poor theatrical runs means you can't count on much anticipation getting built for the DVD. Getting the DVD out quickly to capitalize on what little bit of cultural currency you have makes sense.
Nonetheless, it's suicidal to really consider day-and-date for studio films...unless you know ahead of time that your movie's a bomb. Even then, day-and-date may kill you overseas, where films that have been released in a true theatrical pattern are worth far more for rebroadcast than direct-to-video films.
If Bubble were the sort of film that the financial backers had real faith in, they wouldn't have done this. At least, I don't think they would have. An arthouse film with a chance for success needs a theatrical arthouse run, starting on as few as 2 screens. It needs critical acclaim, and then a few nominations for awards. Then you build your theatrical release, and cash in on the ensuing DVD release.
Until people start rejecting theaters (and a 6% downtick doesn't mean rejection, it just means a 6% downtick), to go day-and-date is to kill your chance for real success. Let the handwringers keep wringing. War, television, VHS...all touted as the death knell for movie theaters... I give Soderbergh and Cuban a lot of credit for finding some way to hype their movie, but there's nothing to fear here.
Personally, I think Craig's mostly right about this, although a multi-tiered model may emerge with DVD release overlapping the tail of a theatrical release, or DVDs being sold in theater lobbies. Hollywood's desire for instant financial gratification (and the desire of consumers to avoid nasty movie theatres by using their home theater systems instead) shouldn't be underestimated.