What's the verdict on the 'Bubble' experiment?

How did Bubble, Steven Soderbergh’s much-touted experiment in releasing a movie to theaters, cable, and DVD at the same time, actually fare in the marketplace? Depends on who you ask. Theater owners, who saw the film as a threat to their ever-shrinking window of exclusivity, gloated that Bubble‘s opening weekend gross was limited to about $71,000 on 32 screens. (See this Hollywood Reporter article headlined, ”Theater owners thrilled about burst Bubble.”) Bubble‘s backers, including billionaire Mark Cuban, acknowledged that the film could have done better in theaters but said DVD sales were four times ”normal expectations.” (See this Associated Press article headlined, ”Bubble release deemed success by backers.”)

Does Bubble prove anything pro or con regarding simultaneous multi-platform distribution? One could argue that such distribution won’t see a true test until it’s tried on a major studio release with big stars, not a low-budget indie starring amateur actors. On the other hand, if the DVD numbers really are robust, they counter the conventional wisdom that you need the word of mouth from a theatrical run to drive home video sales.

PopWatchers, do you think Bubble is just a historical blip or the wave of the future?

Comments (10 total) Add your comment
  • Nick

    It’s obvious; if the film made money, then it is a success. The triple-release pattern accomplished a major feat: it provided the maximum amount of advertising coverage for the least amount of money. Even if, in future releases, such a film does not get front-page press, the movie reviews it gets puts it at the forefront of serious moviegoers minds (its intended audience).
    This is an experiment that proves it only can work for small, starless indies. It could have also worked for that rare direct-to-video-but-good movie, such as Ripley’s Game. It could also have worked for an HBO made-for-TV movie, such as Wit.

  • Charlotte

    Maybe the studios are missing the point with this new marketing. Why not have a one night screening of a movie at the theater when the DVD hits the shelves. Even being able to purchase the movie or other merchandise in the lobby. It could even be on Mondays to get a jump on a new DVDs coming out the next day. This may seem a little to ambitious for studios to back but it just seems like a better way to cross market than the the tricky triple-release.

  • dwight

    The whole thing about DVD “sales” is completely misleading. The DVD didn’t go on sale to consumers until today. The movie’s backers are talking about orders they have filled to stores that sell DVDs. When those figures came out, not one person had purchased a copy of that movie. That said, there is no denying that Steven Soderbergh is a brilliant director. But this whole discussion is pointless b/c the $ figures are meaningless…

  • brandonk

    I think that as home theaters and home entertainment centers of higher levels of sophistication become more prevalent, the stigma of direct-to-DVD will wear off. Word-of-mouth certainly isn’t necessary for a DVD to do well; it just needs advertising and maybe some good reviews. If studios put the same amount of money into DVD movies as they do for theatrical releases, that would definitely help, too. However, I do think that some movies are just better in a theater, unless you have a really nice home theater…which very few people do.

  • Tim L

    I tend to think that this is perhaps a blip more than anything. Although, I gurantee you that if Lucas made Star Wars available on DVD to those who were exiting the the theatre instead of making people wait 4 months, sales would be through the freeking roof! Perhaps conditions to the multi-platform release are required? The movie is only available on DVD if you go see at the theatre first and is then available for purchase on exit as I suggested above?
    Who knows…but there are movies that I am watching for the first time and 20 minutes in I’ve decided I want this on DVD. As a pretentious film student though I tend to be flighty, so don’t base on market analysis on my take.

  • Ep Sato

    I see this as a big boon to Hollywood at the expense of movie theaters.
    Think of it from this perspective. A movie comes out with lots of hype and gets 2,000,000 viewers it’s first weekend. If it’s in a theather, they have to share the money with the theater owners, distributors, etc. So, figuring $10 a ticket (I live in DC), that’s $20 million. Not a bad opening.
    On the other hand, with dvd they get to sell those same 2,000,000 copies directly to the consumer at $20 each. First, they gross more money ($40 mil), second, they share it with a smaller bunch. Plus, they’ll still sell rental copies and can release the movie in theaters abroad.
    Even if it stinks, the only losers are the owners of used DVD shops who’ll get flooded with bad first run movies by the second week of release.
    From the “moviegoers” perspective,what a steal! A theater quality movie at home with no overpriced goodies or obnoxious people in other seats. Plus, for basically the price of two tickets, there are no limits to how many see the movie at home.
    Downside is that this could kill off movie theaters for good. For a movie junkie like me, that is a real shame. I love going to the cinema and hope it always remains a popular form of entertainment.

  • Me

    The theory posted below seems to be balls – if a film is meant to be good, imagine how many people will watch their friend’s copy of the DVD, instead of paying to go and see it at the theatre! Just because 2,000,000 people would, theoretically, go to see it at the cinema, doesn’t mean that the same people would buy the DVD – I go to see films with groups of around 10 friends; if the same film was available on DVD for, say, 4 times the amount a movie ticket costs (I live in the UK), we would club together & buy the DVD – therefore, ten of us would see it, essentially for the price of four! Also, you don’t take into account the fact that people may want to go for the “theatre experience” – the big screen, surround sound etc; nor that people may want to do it the ‘old’ way, and see the film at the cinema before jumping in & buying the DVD. But those are just notions – i know they counter-argue my first point! Whilst i would LIKE this method to apply to big-name films, i just don’t think it will be viable.

  • V.M.L.

    I just don’t want movie theatres to go away!!!!

  • mike

    So the sales of one very low budget film with no stars and only a small amount of publicity proves what a bad idea it is? Big budget extravaganzas need to be seen on big screens. They need to be original concepts and not tired retreads. Small indies films could benefit from direct to video if it doesn’t screw up their award chances.

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