Presented with the option of buying a film on disc or just renting it, it practically goes without saying that springing to purchase a a film sight unseen must happen far less regularly than just plumping for a hire. This situation will also be exacerbated by Netflix-style postal services and VOD. It isn’t any wonder, then, that the studios are considering a plan that would give sell-through discs a window of their own, a protected chance to tempt consumers into a more profitable course of consumerism.

I’ve read a report from The LA Times (found courtesy of Screen Rant) in which Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is quoted as having made the following claim during a conference call:

The studios are wrestling with declines in DVD sales while the DVD rental market has been modestly growing. One of the mitigating steps some are considering is introducing a DVD retail sales-only window for a few weeks.

Already, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. have pulled their discs and gone to court with Redbox, the $1-a-night robo-kiosk people. The studios argue that Redbox are devaluing the product at that price, and they may have a point. As a collectormaniac consumer, I’d love to see the prices on both rental and retail discs continue to drop (and drop and drop) but as a film lover, I’d hate for this to create a climate of fear that sees the studios less willing to invest in risky (read: not utterly banal) films.

Dare I dream of a future world in which the studios have become extinct and the film culture is no longer shackled to profit and investment but the labour-of-love work of people settling for reasonable wages and looking to express themselves? Imagine a world where a film director earns, say, $90,000 for a year’s work and an actor bags $45,000 for a four week stint on set. It’s bizarro economics, and might sound more like a burger joint than the supposed dream factory of Hollywood but it is films getting made, and I’m sure just as many of them would be good. Can we even fantasise the film industry as existing in a completely different strata of the economy? And if not, why not?

Back to the rental question. Hastings has identified a silver lining to the proposed rental delay, and related it in the same call:

If we can agree on low-enough pricing, delayed rental could potentially increase profits for everyone.

And for the consumer? A greater tendency to borrow discs from friends maybe and perhaps even a huge rise in piracy. Time will tell.

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