In a bid to limit movie piracy in Asia, Disney and Sony have quietly begun testing a bold new on-demand service in South Korea which offers movies to rent while they are still playing in theaters. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, the two companies are the first US studios to provide consumers anywhere with the option to buy a ticket to see a movie or watch it in their own home using their cable, internet, or satellite-TV subscription. Django Unchained, Wreck-it Ralph, and Brave had all been made available as part of the trial.
In May, Shane Carruth's Upstream Color went online and hit iTunes and Amazon Instant Video after about a month in theaters. Similar attempts by studios have been met with resistance in the past. Tim Burton's film version of Alice in Wonderland was nearly not screened at Odeon cinemas in the UK, Ireland, or Italy in 2010 after Disney attempted to reduce the exclusive theater release window from 17 weeks to 12 weeks in order to bring forward the DVD launch. Disney also conducted an on-demand test in Portugal with a six-week window for animated movie Tangled a year later but has not repeated the experiment until now.
A first for US movie studios
As the world's eighth-largest film market, South Korea is a good place for Disney and Sony to start. Should they test the model outside of Asia, both companies will likely be met with greater opposition in countries like the US and UK. With movies like Iron Man 3 performing fantastically at the US box office with an $175 million opening weekend (second only to The Avengers), theaters play a major part in building buzz for a title — helping Google to predict future box office hits. That said, the four other major Hollywood studios are said to be watching the situation closely and may follow suit, putting pressure on movie theater chains and the future of the exclusive 90-day play window in the US.