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The iTunes trailer for John Dies at the End proclaims that it will be available online, "everywhere" from december 2012 before its cinema release in January 2013.

Of course by "everywhere" they mean the USA and nowhere else. Those of us in undeveloped parts of the word like Europe, don't yet know when we will get access to it (well, legally anyway). This seems to be standard practice for recent movies with an online release (another recent example would be God Bless America where Europeans waited a couple of months after Americans to get it online).

My general question is why does this still happen?

I can understand the tangled rights issues of movies where the contracts were written before electronic distribution was invented, but these are modern movies perhaps even ones where early online distribution was part of the plan. Why not plan international release on the same date worldwide? Why piss off the entire international audience (who watch the trailers on iTunes or some other international internet site) and then make them frustrated when they can't get the movie?

Update

I notice that some content originators of TV and Movies are now planning to break the regional distribution model. This article from The Register reports:

Netflix original productions will, differently, be global from the start, effectively demolishing all the concepts of regions and release windows that the industry has been clinging on to.

This reinforces my claim that international distribution doesn't have to be a mess, so why is it still not often done the Netflix way?

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I've cleared the comments because they were argumentative instead of resulting in clearifying the question. Please take your discussion to the chatroom. –  DForck42 Jan 14 '13 at 21:20
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The iTunes trailer for John Dies at the End proclaims that it will be available online, "everywhere" from december 2012 before its cinema release in January 2013. Of course by "everywhere" they mean the USA and nowhere else.

By "everywhere", they're not referring to geography, they're referring to the various digital storefronts where movies can be rented/purchased from. I.e. iTunes, Xbox, On Demand, Vudu, etc. You'll observe that at the bottom right of http://trailers.apple.com/ there's likely a USA flag, not a UK (or other EU country) one, which indicates the site's region is USA, so Apple's treating you like you're in the US.

My general question is why does this still happen?

In short, regional distribution rights. When a movie is made, instead of releasing to all countries, the studio will release it in the country of origin. They then look at other countries that have large enough markets, and offer local companies the chance to be the local distributor. A local company buys the rights, optionally localizes the film (subtitling/dubbing), and then distributes it. Via this path, when it is released in other countries, the film is relevant and useful to the local market.

I can understand the tangled rights issues of movies where the contracts were written before electronic distribution was invented, but these are modern movies perhaps even ones where early online distribution was part of the plan. Why not plan international release on the same date worldwide?

Here it's not a case of tangled rights, it's just that the original movie studio doesn't want to anger your local studios/distribution companies by cutting them out of the loop. Selling American films in Europe directly probably works well enough, since enough people in Europe speak English. However, for the people in those countries who do not, they depend on the local studios/distribution companies to do the translation work. If the original studio skips localization, they're preventing these people from enjoying the film as well.

The original studio could do the localization work themselves or partner with the local studios/distribution companies such that the localized versions are available on the same date as the original release. However, that adds possibly unnecessary costs (if the film is unpopular in its original country, it probably would never be localized elsewhere) to the film before the studio has made any money back on it. It would also add delays to its original release date, as the current timelines for movies are often down to the wire, to wait for the localization process to happen properly would delay the original release of the film by weeks/months.

Why piss off the entire international audience (who watch the trailers on iTunes or some other international internet site) and then make them frustrated when they can't get the movie?

Because it would cost them time and money to accommodate international audiences, and to be frank, you'll end up buying it any way.

Additional reading: This article goes into greater detail on the nature of these regional distribution deals.

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Great answer, thanks. I'm not sure I'm convinced on one issue, though. For the english-speaking audience, little or no localisation is required, especially if the distribution is online and doesn't require packaging. So what extra cost is required to do a universal worldwide release? And a minor point: the linked article in the last line doesn't seem to be universally accessible. Is there an alternative source or could you quote a summary? –  matt_black Jan 3 '13 at 1:43
    
@matt_black Which markets outside the US speak English almost exclusively? Australia and the UK are the only ones that come to mind. The UK does often get US works faster than other regions, but will still have their own ratings restrictions (e.g. some violence/language needs to be censored) compared to the US, which takes time and money. Ergo, there's still a need for a localization company to do some work. I can't speak on Australia for films, but I know for other media, they have decidedly different ratings and censorship compared to the US, which requires localization. –  Keen Jan 3 '13 at 20:37
    
The english speaking market outside the US would include canada, australia, the UK (in total already >100m people and big markets) plus the segment of english speaking people in the countries where many speak english as a second language (which would be much of northern europe). For some movies, the fans would gladly pay for an english only version to get the movie early or at all. –  matt_black Jan 8 '13 at 23:42
    
Of course I forgot Canada! –  Keen Jan 9 '13 at 15:23
    
Worth noting that John Dies at the End was finally released to UK audiences with virtually no publicity on iTunes in december 2013 long after the initial american release and the online trailer (which international fans will have seen from roughly mid 2012). –  matt_black Dec 30 '13 at 17:57
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A: It costs too much.

A simplistic analogy is a new college graduate saying, “You know, I’m just going to buy 10 houses at the same time and sell them all on the same day and make millions” – vs. buying, selling, buying selling, to build equity, to learn the product/markets along the way, and to spread the insane distribution negotiation process out. So – juggling 10 balls at once vs. 100 at once.

Also, traditionally a release does not even open in the US all at once. I’d be interested to see what percentage do.

Summary:

a.) Up-front money is the game. It’s hard enough to secure financing for a production, AND to support local marketing which can be more than the production itself, depending on how they want to hit it. (All those print ads, television ads, so that people know to even go see the movie – major beaucoup that.) You have to get loaned money back ASAP! (Look at Blade Runner. Ridley lost rights to the picture because he could not fulfill the contractual steps to pay back the money on time.) (See State & Main for parody on how tight up-front money is. [“..So, that happened.”])

b.) Each print costs like $2K. Having every movie house (37,000 in the US) – and in every country – open at once is fantastically expensive in both up-front cash but also logistically.

c.) Negotiating distribution is a crazy and painstaking business process. It is said making a picture is easy compared to distributing it even locally. And foreign distributors do not want to buy what is not proven in at least one market.

You can see how these things are all compounding right? A.) alone is frickin’ hard to get done.

So you might imagine how irksome it would be when people blithely demand a worldwide opening (and conveniently forgetting the same limitations in their own country’s film industry.) It’s rather like the “I don’t care.” iPhone guy. (Now there is a movie production that you can get worldwide distribution on the same day!)

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Cost of prints is irrelevant for online distribution which is why I asked why things hadn't changed now that electronic distribution is common. –  matt_black Jan 3 '13 at 20:00
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@matt_black - Cost of prints is relevant, because that’s how the business still runs. And even if it weren’t, the other points still stand alone ^ – total cost is the issue why major releases do not open worldwide on the same day. The tragedy is that by the time major new releases are available online worldwide at once, it will be $17 a pop, and DVD & Blue-ray mediums will not exist (fact!), and we will wish they did, because it would have been the same price as our 2 day lease fee. (Don’t shoot the messenger! : ) –  ipso Jan 3 '13 at 21:28
    
I'm wondering if you read the question? Sure you are right for some movies, but the ones I raised the question about were going to be distributed online alongside theatre release, so you objection "that's not the way we do it" doesn't apply. Besides, you are wrong about the standard distribution in some european countries (the UK's largest cinema chain is already almost all digital projection). You sound like a music executive arguing against international online music distribution on the grounds that vinyl pressing is costly. –  matt_black Jan 8 '13 at 16:42
    
You’re too focused on b.). You ignore ad campaign costs. You ignore performance considerations that drive agreements. Your axe to grind is that b.) is no longer applicable because of technology. My axe to grind is that people should not presume to tell the movie industry how to distribute their products, just because technology “can” do it does not mean it is the smart thing to do. –  ipso Jan 8 '13 at 17:31
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