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Archive for May 7th, 2020

It was announced yesterday that PM Boris Johnson is to review lockdown restrictions with cabinet over the weekend, and may be “eased” as soon as Monday.  While we are a million miles away from freedom of movement, and cinemas reopening, it will happen one day, but what will the industry look like by then?  Will there be a place for cinemas as we know them, and will people want to attend busy screenings?  As with the rest of our daily lives cinema is changing to fit the new world order, one of the first to react was Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  The usual rules require a film to be eligible for awards consideration must “have a minimum seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles County commercial theatre, with at least three screenings per day for paid admission”.  Under new (temporary) rules, if a film would have had a theatrical release but switched to streaming and/or VOD due to Coronavirus, it will still be eligible for awards consideration (providing it meets the other requirements).

There is another side to this.  Trolls World Tour, the sequel to Trolls (2016) was set for a cinematic/theatrical release just as the Coronavirus lockdown hit.  Rather than delay release as with so many other films, Universal decided to release the movie on VOD in April.  It took, $100million in the first three weeks from the North American market.  While it has some way to go to match the $346.9 million the first movie took, it is good business for the studio at a time when their largest revenue stream has dried up.  I haven’t looked too deeply into the business model, but a quick glance at the costs involved suggests the studio will be taking a larger cut of that $100,000 than they would have with a traditional release.  There are lots of factors to consider, including the fact the film came out just as a lot of parents needed to occupy kids who were unexpectedly off school.  The release, will also negate, or reduce future revenue from a home media releases, but it does show there is an argument for home releasing.  Based on this, Jeff Shell, the CEO of NBC Universal told the Wall Street Journal that following the reopening of they would be releasing films in cinema’s and on VOD.   The fallout from this came when AMC Theatres, the parent company of Odeon declared the decision “unacceptable” suggesting they would no longer show films distributed by Universal.  They were quickly joined by Cineworld who in a statement said “Our policy with respect to the window is clear, well known in the industry and is part of our commercial deal with our movie suppliers. We invest heavily in our cinemas across the globe and this allows the movie studios to provide customers all around the world to watch the movies in the best experience. There is no argument that the big screen is the best way to watch a movie”.Cinewworld Universal Odeon

Some of the films set to be released by Universal (Universal distribute films for other studios as well as their own) include the Candyman remake and the sequel Halloween Kills.  There are also a few smaller little known movies: A British spy film called No Time to Die, a film about street racers called Fast and Furious 9, and something about dinosaurs, Jurassic World 3, there is also an animated movie, Minions: The Rise of Gru.  But I’m sure nobody is interested in seeing those!  In all seriousness, all these movie are from franchises that have had a least one, $1billion movie in their past lineup.  When they went into production, they would have been expecting to achieve this again, probably more.  For those who don’t know, the window referred to, is the time between when a film is shown in cinema’s until it is available for home release.  This dates back to the increased popularity of VHS in the 1980’s and had continued to this day.  The system is voluntary, and agreed between cinema’s and studios/distributors.  This all relates to the UK, although similar agreements are in place across Europe, including some of the continents biggest markets: Spain, Italy, and Germany.  The one nation where it is different is France, a country with a long and proud history of both film-making, and cinema screenings.  Their release window is enshrined in law.  They have a minimum four month gap between cinema and VOD release, and 36 months for SVOD (They are temporarily relaxing restrictions during the lockdown).  Although, they do have a caveat that a film that sells fewer than 200 tickets in the first month, they can apply for a one-month reduction to the window.   This has resulted in a lot of smaller UK and US movies skipping cinema entirely in favour of VOD, and SVOD.  The waters were further muddied two years ago when Cannes film festival got involved  but that’s a rabbit hole best avoided for today!

As it stands we are in a position of stalemate where Universal Films will not be show in Odeon or Cineworld cinemas.  I can’t believe the two largest cinema chains in the UK (45% of the market between them as of 2018) are and one of the world’s major studios (the world’s fifth oldest, and the oldest member of Hollywood’s “Big Five” studios) are going to let this happen.  Somebody will have to back down, or a compromise must be reached.  My first instinct is that the cinema’s are right to protect their interests, and the studio will have to back down.  The more I think about it, the cinema model may be outdated.  Film critic Mark Kermode has long been an advocate of Day & Date Release and often talks about it on the BBC’s flagship film program.  This article quotes him eight years ago! It would certainly help reduce piracy, an argument that has been gaining traction in Spain, who I understand has a bigger issue with piracy than the UK.  We also have to look at what cinema’s will be like after Coronavirus.  I don’t see them filling up on day one after they open.  I am certainly looking forward to returning to watching films as intended, on a giant screen, but am less keen of watching them in a packed auditorium.  I often go to see big releases on opening night (often to avoid spoilers) , this included Birds of Prey this year, and The Rise of Skywalker at the back end of last year.  Will this result in the big releases I mentioned above taking less than expected?

There is also the possibility that we are on the precipice of change in the industry.  If home viewing overtakes cinema box-office will it be the end of big cinema chains? If this is the case will it be the golden age of smaller independent cinemas?  Only time will tell, but first things first, we need beat covid 19 so we can get back to living our lives, and that means staying at home and away from cinemas for a little longer.

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