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Families may soon get the chance to watch in-theater movies from the comfort of their living room couch — for between $20 and $30 a flick.

That day appears to be approaching as Hollywood warms up to the “home theater” concept of putting movies on video-on-demand cable platforms while they’re still playing in the cinema.

It’s an effort to compensate for declining DVD sales and to thwart companies like Redbox, whose kiosks rent first-run flicks for $1 a night.

Studios are weighing a test of the concept in Canada to gauge how the new early window would affect theater owners, sources tell the Post. “There are some [studios] who are more willing to experiment sooner. There could be multiple trials,” said one executive close to studios and operators.

Cable operators such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision would like to convince the studios that their movie launches should be seen as event-style programming along the lines of boxing and music concerts.

one cable source said: “A home-theater window is a better proposition than the bricks and mortar store. Cable already has movies ahead of Netflix.” within recent weeks, key studio executives have publicly expressed support for the new window idea.

Warner Brothers is the most aggressive on this front, the sources added, even while it is careful to weigh the interests of theater owners. Late last month, Warner Bros. Chief Executive Barry Meyer said: “We believe there is a large, unmet consumer demand for an early window.”

the belief is that there are core sets of consumers, such as families with young children, that have a hard time getting to the movies and would be willing to pony up a $20 to $30 fee to be part of water cooler conversations. While that may appear to be priced too high, a typical trip to the movies for a family of three can be easily twice that range.

Earlier this month, Lionsgate Entertainment’s Chief Operating Officer, Steve Beeks, echoed those thoughts, saying, “We think this idea of variable premium pricing . . . is a pretty smart way to create new windows, and we actually think it will end up being accretive [to earnings].”

the Wall Street Journal first reported on news that Time Warner Cable has been shopping the early window for a product it calls “home theater on demand.” Time Warner Cable had no comment on its progress on talks with the studios.

Commenting on the idea of a new window, David Purdy, VP video products at Rogers Communications in Toronto, said: “There is no done deal but the time has come. People have HD sets and 50-inch screens; it’s a compelling experience. I’m optimistic we’ll see it in the next 12 months.”

a Comcast rep also pointed out the rapid growth in availability of movies concurrent with the DVD release. In 2008, the cable giant offered up 50 movies at the time of the DVD release and, in 2009, made 100 movies available. In the first quarter of 2010 it had 60 releases.

the cable operator also has a deal with Magnolia Pictures to show movies ahead of their theatrical window.

claire.atkinson@nypost.com

TV screen test


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