Warner Bros. to stream some new releases in S. Korea on VOD play

Among things that go bump in the night for movie theater owners, one of the scariest is the prospect of becoming obsolete, just as drive-in movies theaters did.

That’s the reason they’ve reacted so aggressively when studios have looked to shorten release windows, as Universal tried in 2011 with “Tower Heist.” Or, as Netflix and the Weinstein Co. are doing with the planned concurrent release on IMAX and to subscribers of the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” eliminate those windows.

But, theater owners aren’t just being spooked by shadows; the threat is real.

Warner Bros. Korea plans to begin offering South Korean audiences access to a number of new release movies through a new online service, rather than release them in theaters, a published report said. Granted (and this obviously is critical, at the moment) the movies are titles that weren’t planned to see the light of day in Korean theaters. But the move is likely a harbinger of things to come.

“This will be a chance for Korean audiences to download films that are not being given the opportunity to be released at theaters and it will also serve as an important distribution channel for films in a market which is seeing one of the fastest growth rate in the IPTV field,” Kang Myeong-ku, head of Digital Distribution, Warner Bros. Korea, told Variety.

Initially, the video-on-demand service will carry only Warner titles. But Warner Bros. said other studios could participate.

It’s reach will be broad; it will be available on the nation’s top IPTV providers, KT’s Olleh TV, which has a subscriber base of more than 5.48 million, and LG’s U+ TV, which has 2.02 million subs, as well as others.

Overall, the South Korean IPTV market number more than 10 million subscribers, and it’s been growing by leaps and bounds since launching in 2009.

South Korea is consistently is ranked as one of the most connected societies in the world and generally is ranked as having the fastest average broadband speeds.

The combination is an ideal launching pad for a service the studio hopes will make up for lost DVD revenue.

“It’s a service model aiming to revive the local video market amid fast-growing digital platforms,” a spokesperson for Warner Brothers Korea told the Hollywood Reporter. “We are also providing a legitimate way for consumers to watch movies that did not receive a theatrical release here.”

The Hollywood Reporter said the service will launch with Warner’s romantic-comedy “Blended,” Blended, and wrote that other titles set to be released online include, “Jersey Boys” and Tammy.

Is Warner’s move a limited release to a specific market? Or a harbinger of things to come in the U.S.?

Bump. What was that?

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn