The Economics of Film Distribution
Interesting comment from one of our readers on digital film distribution:
The delay for video rental after the theatrical release is because the exhibitors (movie chains like Regal) insist on not having their business encroached by the home video market.
Studios are somewhat ambivalent about embracing online rentals for a number of reasons. With each new format VHS, DVD, Blue Ray etc. they have been getting to resell the same product to the same customer which may end with online sales.
Studios have been slow to do it but want to do their own digital distribution. On the other hand Netflix and Amazon are some of their largest customers and so are shy about going into competition with them.
Part of poor availlability in older titles has to do with the fact that ownership of the digital rights can be varied and hard to track down or establish. The studios may not own them. Some heir to some producer or star from back in the day may own them and no one is actively working to generate revenue with them. There may be fights for control of those rights that are keeping them from coming to market. Digital rights were not spelled out in contracts for films long ago.
The companies that specialize in monetizing the "brand" of a star like Marilyn Monroe typically only want to invest in a star that has lots of different revenue streams like merchandizing stuff ets. A great movie star who is not actually iconic, like a Walther Matthau for example, cannot generate enough revenue to pay for a company to work at keeping his films availlable in all formats, His films will only be moved into a new format when someone buys a whole library of content that has some of his work in it.
It isn't cost effective to spend the money establishing legal ownership of a film that won't sell many copies.
This is a little of what is happening and why. There is a real dearth of good economic history written about Hollywood. Some of this is also because so many decisions in this industry aren't made for economic reasons in a straightforward way - and a lot of the data and reasons people do make economic decisions are pretty propietary about their data.
I distribute films and did so for a major studio for some years. Not an exhaustive answer but here are a few things at work in no particular order.