On television, Veronica Mars was a gritty teenage private investigator who wasn't afraid to break down doors. Now a movie version of the show is about to do the same thing.
"Veronica Mars" will be released by Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. in about 270 theaters on March 14, the same day that it is available to buy or rent online. It will mark the first time one of Hollywood's six major studios has distributed a movie in theaters and for home viewing at the same time in the U.S.
For decades, a sacrosanct "theatrical window" protected big-screen releases from the competition of DVD sales, rentals or other distribution platforms. Under intense pressure from the largest cinema chains, which argue that such competition would take business away from them, studios usually put at least three months between theatrical and DVD or video-on-demand releases.
In the past few years, independent studios and theaters have begun to chip away at the theatrical window with simultaneous releases—but only for low-profile movies and usually on a small number of screens.
For "Veronica Mars," which originated with a campaign on Kickstarter, Warner Bros. has found an unusual workaround. The studio is paying AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., AMC +1.64% the nation's second-largest chain, to rent 260 screens across the country (the other 10 playing the film are independently owned).
Because Warner is renting the theaters, AMC doesn't consider it to be a violation of its standard 90-day window policy. Typically theater operators and studios split revenue from ticket sales.
"On projects like this where we know we have a partner with the resources to promote the film and an easily targetable audience, we will rent theaters out," said Nikkole Denson-Randolph, AMC's vice president of special and alternative content. The duration of the rentals will depend on how well the movie initially does, she said.
AMC has never rented out so many theaters for a single movie before, Ms. Denson-Randolph said. The most successful simultaneous releases in the past, such as "Arbitrage" starring Richard Gere, played primarily in independently owned theaters, which don't always adhere to traditional theatrical windows and typically have smaller audiences.
AMC's major competitors, including Regal Entertainment Group RGC -0.53% and Cinemark Holdings Inc., CNK -0.24% don't rent out theaters to movies that will be released at home within fewer than 90 days, said people in the industry.
It usually costs between $5,000 and $20,000 a week to "four wall" a single screen, as renting one out is known in the movie business, according to a knowledgeable person. Executives at AMC and Warner declined to discuss financial details of their agreement.
For Warner Bros., which is known for bigger budget event films like "The Lego Movie" and "Man of Steel," "Veronica Mars" represents an experiment, not a harbinger of broader changes to its business.
Although the "Veronica Mars" series was canceled by the CW Network—co-owned by Warner and CBS Corp. CBS +0.23% —in 2007 because it drew only about 2.8 million viewers a week, its fan base has remained loyal and long demanded resolutions to plotlines left dangling. Show creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell pushed the movie idea last year and convinced Warner, which produced the show, to release it if they met a Kickstarter goal of $2 million.
The effort ended up raising $5.7 million from more than 91,000 people.
Actors from the TV series including Percy Daggs II, Jason Dohring and Enrico Colantoni agreed to appear.
"The existence of Kickstarter and the emergence of the social Internet make something like this possible," said Thomas Gewecke, Warner's chief digital officer. "The economics work."
Because the passions for "Veronica Mars" run so deep, executives at Warner and AMC said they are confident that fans will go to theaters with friends and buy or rent a copy to watch again at home. Typically, on-line film rentals cost about $5, less than a theater ticket.
Some funds from the Kickstarter fundraising are being used for T-shirts, posters and other rewards promised to fans who donated money. The studio funded the rest of the movie, which ended up costing a little over $6 million in total.
Advertising is being done entirely online and in AMC theaters, with no traditional television spots or billboards. Given the movie's modest budget, Warner says it is counting only on the existing "Veronica Mars" fan base to attend.
"They can make it successful for us," said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of distribution for Warner. "If we extend beyond that, it'll be gravy."
Mr. Gewecke said that Warner has looked at other properties from its television and film library to see if they could qualify for the same treatment of a low-budget movie that can be released simultaneously in theaters and online.
"The passion of the fan base and the very strong connection to Rob and Kristen online are the essential ingredients," said Mr. Gewecke.
I have tickets for March 8th, March 14th, and March 16th (all my friends have different schedules), but I am so happy that everyone will have an opportunity to see it especially those that wanted to see it and didn't live near any AMC theaters. Backers will also receive the Digital Copies the day of! This release is WORLDWIDE for the digital form.
On March 14, Veronica Mars will be available, both to rent and purchase from DIGITAL RETAILERS (such as iTunes and Amazon) and on-demand through participating CABLE and SATELLITE providers, worldwide.