Bakish: Paramount Jumpstarting Biz Through Digital Retail

Paramount Pictures, like other studios, has seen its production business and theatrical slate upended by the coronavirus pandemic. The studio has been able to keep the lights on over the past three months in large part to transactional VOD and premium VOD, according to ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish.

Speaking on the first Credit Suisse Virtual Communication Confab, Bakish said home entertainment has helped Paramount justify capital spending on new movies during a year of uncertainty.

“We sold The Lovebirds [to Netflix] early in the COVID-19 window,” he said. “We also accelerated the EST window with Sonic [the Hedgehog], which performed very well for us.”

The movie, starring Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic, gross more than $300 million at the global box office before the theatrical shutdown.

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The executive said the company is monetizing the Paramount library by releasing more than 100 movies via CBS All Access and through the Sunday Night Movie on the Paramount Network.

“We’re already seeing a material benefit on the time-spent side by consumers,” Bakish said.

“Look, COVID in the short term has set us back in terms of film releases and TV productions, obviously,” he said. “But we continue to see a path to nicely improved profitability over the longer term.”

Paramount’s ‘The Lovebirds’ Going Straight to Netflix

Paramount Pictures’ scrapped April 3 theatrical release The Lovebirds is going straight to Netflix — and apparently not to transactional VOD, retail or rental, according to a source familiar with the situation. The romantic comedy stars Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) and Issa Rae (“Insecure”).

As Hollywood studios adjust to shuttered theaters globally in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many have expedited theatrical titles into retail channels —not third-party SVOD.

Indeed, there is no mention of the title on digital retail channels such as iTunes, Amazon, Vudu or Fangdango Now. The same for Redbox.

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Paramount fast-tracked theatrical release Sonic the Hedgehog for digital purchase on March 31 from Paramount Home Entertainment. The film, which made $306.8 million at the global box office, will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and for rental on demand or disc May 19.

But The Lovebirds is not a proven theatrical release or franchise, and with the pandemic wreaking havoc across myriad distribution channels, taking third-party SVOD money probably seemed like a better bet.

Indeed, Netflix in 2017 acquired The Cloverfield Paradox, a science-fiction horror film Paramount had pulled from its theatrical slate. The streamer reportedly paid the studio $50 million for the rights and released it on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018.

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In Paramount’s most-recent fiscal period, Paramount Home Entertainment generated more revenue from retail than the studio did from theatrical.

Netflix has not disclosed when it plans to release The Lovebirds.

Home Release Dates Uncertain After Movie, Original Series Postponements and Production Halts

Movie release postponements as well as production suspensions for films and original SVOD series due to the mounting coronavirus health crisis will likely lead to significant shifts in the home release calendar for the rest of the year.

With movies typically becoming available for disc or digital delivery three months or so after their theatrical openings, delayed home releases include several big Hollywood movies, including the Walt Disney Co.’s live-action Mulan; Universal Pictures’ latest “Fast and Furious” film, F9; and the Paramount Pictures horror sequel A Quiet Place: Part II.

Meanwhile, such original digital series as the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie” and Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on Disney+, will likely debut later than expected due to production halts.

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On the film front, Mulan’s scheduled March 27 theatrical opening has been called off, with no new date set — despite a star-studded premiere March 9 at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood that was attended by some 3,400 guests and a smaller London premiere March 12.

F9’s theatrical debut has been postponed by nearly a year, from May 2020 to April 2, 2021. According to a Twitter posting, “While we know there is disappointment in having to wait a little while longer, this movie is made with the safety of everyone as our foremost consideration.”

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A Quiet Place: Part II, slated to open March 20, has also been taken off the schedule, with no new date set.

The first big movie to be postponed was the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, with Daniel Craig in his final turn as the fabled spy. On March 3 MGM, Eon and Universal Pictures announced that the planned April theatrical debut was off and the film, instead would open in the United Kingdom on Nov. 12 and in the United States on Nov. 25.

The companies said the decision came “after careful consideration and thorough evaluation of the global theatrical marketplace.”

Disney also pushed back the theatrical openings of two other movies, the horror film Antlers, original slated for April 17, and Marvel’s New Mutants, which was supposed to hit the big screen on April 3. No new dates have been set. New Mutants has already been delayed for years due to production issues and uncertainties associated with Disney’s buyout of Fox.

In addition to A Quiet Place: Part II, Paramount postponed the theatrical debut of The Lovebirds from April 3 to an unspecified date. The theatrical release of another Paramount film, Mission: Impossible VII, is up in the air after filming in Venice, Italy, was stopped in February due to the coronavirus outbreak there.

Also pulled from its originally scheduled theatrical release date is Sony Pictures’ Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, which was supposed to open March 27 in Europe and in the United States on April 3. The film is now slated to open on Aug. 7.

Most recently, Variety on March 13 reported that Disney “for a short time” has halted production and pre-production on The Last Duel, The Little Mermaid, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, Home Alone, Nightmare Alley, Peter Pan & Wendy and Shrunk.

“While there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on our productions, after considering the current environment and the best interests of our cast and crew, we have made the decision to pause production on some of our live-action films for a short time,” according to a studio statement, the Variety story said. “We will continue to assess the situation and restart as soon as feasible.”

The day before, March 12, various media outlets reported that Skydance Television, producer of “Grace and Frankie,” halted production of the seventh and final season of the comedy, which stars Jane Fonda, 82, and Lily Tomlin, 80.

Two days earlier, USA Today reported that Disney shut down production of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” in Prague.