Why The Alamo Drafthouse Isn’t Too Worried About VOD

Tim League weighs in on the debate about new movies hitting premium VOD.

There’s been a lot of furor about the studios’ idea of doing premium VOD releases of big movies eight weeks after theatrical release. The Nato Association of Theater Owners (aka, the other NATO) has been making a lot of unhappy noise, and an open letter to the studios signed by some of the biggest directors in the business  has been drawing lots of attention (click here to read more about it).

I was going to write something about this and then I remembered that my boss is the owner of a movie theater chain, the Alamo Drafthouse. And that he’s also a fledgling distributor, with the Drafthouse Films company. So I figured I would ask Tim League what he thought of all this.

“I’m bullish on exhibition,” Tim told me.

So no, he’s not terribly worried. He’s taking very much a wait and see attitude. “I think some of the charges that have been made [about premium VOD] are invalid and reactionary,” he said. “It remains to be seen if this does impact theatrical. If you look back historically all the way to the 1950s everytime there has been a challenge - from TV to VHS to DVD - there has always been a component of the theatrical community that has said this will be the death of cinema.”

Tim’s also really skeptical of the claim that this VOD system will hurt smaller films that have platform releases, and points to distributors like Magnet, who have had great success with films they release on VOD before even hitting theaters. Those films tend to do well at the Alamo as well. “We’ve had good successes with those films even when they’re playing VOD at the same time they’re in the theater,” he said.

Ultimately a lot of this comes down to the theatrical experience. Not to be a total shill here, but part of the reason people go to the Alamo is for the complete experience, which includes food and drink, high quality projection and a firm policy against talking and texting in movies. The big chains simply don’t offer that - not even protection from noisy patrons. “It’s an industry that’s vulnerable because if you give people the choice they won’t choose a flawed option,” Tim explained.

Things could be changing in the coming years as studios try more ways to combat piracy and to raise profit margins, but there’s an essential truth at the heart of exhibition that Tim trusts.

“People - especially on a Friday and a Saturday - inherently want to get out of the house,” he said. If theater owners can offer them a good option for getting out of the house at the movies, they’ll take it.