You’ve gotta feel bad for Thomas and company, because (as we’ve noted) this feels like anything but their decision. Flixster is property of Veronica Mars distributor Warner Brothers, an expensive 2011 purchase that hasn’t exactly paid dividends. They clearly saw this as an opportunity to introduce it to something of a captive audience — exactly the kind of corporate decision-making that can give a delicate project like this a black eye. Even those of us who backed the project felt a little uneasy about bankrolling what was, when you come down to it, a studio motion picture; said studio thundering in at the 11th hour and sitting on the project’s head, burying it in bad PR in a failed attempt to service one of their other “properties,” did no one any favors.
And these little failures are making the giant media companies look increasingly inept. As Variety ’s Andrew Wallenstein notes, this is the third weekend in a row that we’ve seen this kind of high-profile online stumble: last weekend, HBO GO crashed when everyone tried to watch the True Detective finale at once (prompting a Twitter timeline full of “the HBO GO loading icon is a flat circle” jokes), and the weekend before, the wheels fell off the Watch ABC app during the Oscars. For a good decade and a half now, “content providers” have seemed comically behind the curve when it comes to utilizing online resources; now, the “y’know, we’ll put it on the Internet!” school of thought is blowing up in their faces just as frequently. They haven’t figured out exactly what their online interfaces can and can’t do, and as a result, they look no less out of touch.
And more importantly — to them, and to fans who’d like to see more movies like Veronica Mars — it affects their bottom line. Veronica Mars made it into the weekend top ten, its online release complimented by a run in 291 theaters, most of them rented outright (or “four-walled”) by Warner Brothers. We don’t know how much the movie made on demand this weekend (those numbers aren’t made public in the same weekly, horse-race fashion as theatrical releases), but it seems safe to assume that this you-buy-it-and-we’ll-reimburse you stopgap Band-Aid is costing someone, somewhere — and costing significantly more than a more sensible iTunes or Amazon redemption deal would have, had it been made in advance of Flixster-gate. Will those costs affect the film’s ability to get to the “magic number” Mars has to reach for a sequel to happen?
The 21st century is a complicated time for studios and conglomerates, and there’s no doubt that much of their future lies in web-based solutions. But they’ll keep accumulating massive PR fails if they continue pinning their hopes to technology that’s not yet ready for prime time.