It's March 23. Do you know where your rental copy of The Blind Side is?
The Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) blockbuster -- and vehicle for Sandra Bullock's first Oscar -- hit retailers and some rental outlets today.
I say "some" renters have it because Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) and Coinstar's (Nasdaq: CNST ) Redbox won't be stocking the box office hit for another four weeks. The two celluloid lenders inked deals with Warner Home Video earlier this year, agreeing to the 28-day moratorium in exchange for more title copies at lower price points.
When I saw a press release cross the wires this morning titled "Blockbuster and Warner Bros. Announce New Agreement," I figured that the country's leading bricks-and-mortar rental chain had fallen in line as well.
Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI ) may be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, but it's no dummy. It smells an opportunity in Netflix and Redbox succumbing to lower rungs in the rental hierarchy. The press release simply confirms that Blockbuster is now offering The Blind Side -- and Sherlock Holmes next Tuesday -- four weeks before Netflix and Redbox owners can check out the flicks.
The Time Warner deal isn't just about in-store availability. Blockbuster is offering the film through its Netflix-esque Blockbuster By Mail program and its digitally delivered on-demand service. The press release doesn't mention the Redbox-like Blockbuster Express kiosks that the chain is opening with NCR (NYSE: NCR ) , so it's quite possible that its deal with Time Warner includes putting its automatons on the 28-day freeze.
Either way, stocking The Blind Side is a touchdown for Blockbuster. Movie studios are afraid that discounters -- including Redbox's $1 a day kiosks and Netflix's unlimited plans -- are eating into purchases and full-priced rentals. Time Warner claims that only 25% of DVD buyers pick up its titles after the first four weeks on the market, so the studio is willing to let Netflix and Redbox devalue the product at that point.
The real surprise here is that News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWSA ) 20th Century Fox and General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) majority-owned Universal -- studios that have bellyached in the past about release windows -- haven't followed Time Warner's lead here.
Then again, I keep getting the feeling that Netflix and Redbox just got punked. Netflix claims that most of its subscribers don't care about new releases, but we'll see how the second-class citizenry feels after a few more delayed blockbusters. Redbox is an even bigger sucker because it's all about hot releases. Let's hope margins improve given the cheaper DVDs to make up for the credibility whacks.
Netflix and Redbox will continue to serve their fan bases, but Blockbuster suddenly feels fresher in comparison today.
Will this policy come back to haunt Netflix and Redbox? Share your thoughts in the comment box below?