20th Century Fox Puts Movies Online First With A Big Push Behind “Digital HD”

Don’t call it electronic sell-through. Call it “Digital HD.”

20th Century Fox, the studio behind hits like Prometheus has got a whole new type of movie to sell you online. And while the actual product isn’t that different from what you might have bought before, there are a few key differences in Fox’s approach when dealing with a hip young audience and peddling its wares online.

Let’s start with timing. Someone at Fox apparently realized that online sales weren’t cannibalizing the DVD or Blu-ray market, which studios have leaned on pretty heavily over the last decade or so. And so rather than time online availability “day and date” with Blu-ray, it’s going one better, making movies available a full three weeks before they hit store shelves. Considering that just a few years ago digital was an after-thought, this is a pretty big deal, and it shows that someone recognizes that physical discs are no longer the future. Best get those consumers in their homes.

Then there’s price. Fox is making digital purchase of its titles available for $15 or less. And that’s also brilliant, considering that there are very little packaging or distribution costs associated with selling a digital product — at least compared to printing up, shipping, and selling a physical disc in a big retail outlet. With digital, Fox gets much better margins, so why not sell the product more cheaply to drive volume? Seems like a no-brainer for me.

And finally, there’s distribution. Fox has more than 600 films that it’s making available through a number of online channels, some of which are part of the movie industry’s UltraViolet initiative. Prometheus will be Fox’s first UltraViolet-enabled title, and users will be able to take advantage of its “buy once, watch anywhere” capability on a couple of different digital storefronts. But even if you’re not into UltraViolet, there’s still plenty of places to buy it and other Fox titles — through CinemaNow, iTunes, VUDU, PlayStation, Xbox, and, for the first time, through Google Play and YouTube.

So Fox is the first studio to make such a big push behind digital, making its movies available online in a cheap, convenient way. Will other studios do the same? Well, the whole industry is a little bit of a mess, with different studios taking different approaches to the timing, cost, and date of release for its online products. But! You can guarantee that other studios will be watching this little experiment closely, and if Fox manages to move the needle with its Digital HD push, the others will likely follow.