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Universal Plans Early Cable Rentals of Comedy Film ‘Tower Heist’

Universal Pictures plans to offer the Eddie Murphy comedy “Tower Heist” to cable TV customers of parent Comcast Corp. three weeks after the film opens in theaters, months before a typical video-on-demand release.

The movie, scheduled to open Nov. 4, will be offered to Comcast digital subscribers in Atlanta and Portland, Oregon, Universal Pictures said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Comcast plans to charge $59.99, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reported the plan earlier.

Studios are experimenting with early VOD release to replace declining DVD sales. Universal, Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., News Corp.’s Fox and Sony Corp. previously offered films two months after the theatrical release through DirecTV. The plans have angered cinema operators, which fear the loss of ticket sales to pay TV.

“This experiment will allow the two companies to sample consumer appetite for this film in this window at this price while allowing the film to achieve its full potential at the box office,” the Universal City, California-based studio said in the statement.

John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Demand for films offered in the earlier experiment, including the comedy “Just Go With It,” was small because $30 was too much, DirecTV Chief Executive Officer Michael White said at a Sept. 22 investors conference.

Comcast, based in Philadelphia, rose 46 cents to $21.63 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. Shares of the largest U.S. cable TV service have declined 1.5 percent this year.

Films are typically released in theaters first and become available on DVD and video-on-demand several months later.

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