CEO: Sony Pictures Won’t Be in the ‘Day-and-Date Release Business’

With no proprietary streaming video platform to leverage, Tony Vinciquerra, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, isn’t willing to join Hollywood studios writing the obit for the traditional theatrical window in exchange for expedited direct-to-consumer access in the home.

In an interview with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin, Vinciquerra said the economics surrounding big-budget motion pictures mandate an exclusive theatrical release. That thinking would appear at odds with Warner Bros., which is releasing its entire 2021 theatrical film slate concurrently with SVOD access on HBO Max, beginning with Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day.

Sony Pictures CEO Tony Vinciquerra

“We think the [theatrical] window will become more flexible, which we think is a good thing for our films,” Vinciquerra said, adding that he believes 30 days is the best window to amortize the studio’s marketing over both theatrical and home entertainment windows. “Some films will do better with a shorter window, some will do better with a much longer window. We think that’s the way to go.”

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Indeed, the executive said that when action adventure sci-fi movie Venom was released theatrically on Oct. 3, 2018, the studio was quick to negotiate a shorter box office since it wanted the Tom Hardy-starrer into home entertainment channels by the winter holidays. The title, which generated $856 million at the global box office, was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc Dec. 18 — generating $60 million in packaged-media revenue.

The reverse strategy was deployed in 2019 for the Jumanji: The Next Level, which Sony kept in theaters for more than four months following its Dec. 4 debut — generating $800 million in global box office ($45.5 million in disc sales).

“The first Jumanji went in theaters forever,” Vinciquerra said.  “We backed up the window. It depends on the film.”

When asked how much Sony theatrical movies would “suffer” in 2021 facing increased home entertainment competition from PVOD and transactional VOD via Warner Bros., Disney and Universal Pictures, among others, in the midst of a pandemic, the CEO wasn’t concerned.

“We don’t think we will suffer, once theaters are open and they have a significant number of their seats to sell. We think will be fine,” Vinciquerra said, adding that the studio had no plans to enter the “day-and-date release business”.

The executive contends that with the current backlog of theatrical titles, when released at the box office the onslaught of content — in addition to a vaccine — will jumpstart moviegoers.

Vinciquerra said its recent animation fantasy release, Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train, is the top-performing box office title ever released in Japan. He said the Chinese box office has rebounded as well.

“Once people feel comfortable to go to theaters, the safety protocols appear to be strong, and the vaccine is in the marketplace, we think theaters will be back [in April or May 2021],” he said. “We’re pretty optimistic.”

Vinciquerra dismissed reports of Wonder Woman 1984‘s weak opening box office last weekend in China as more to do with reviews of the movie than the state of the exhibition business.

He said Warner’s decision to release movies through Max has made it easier for Sony to book theatrical dates in 2021 — and generate interest from actors, creators and directors eager for the box office experience and its impact financially and culturally.

“It’s been a bit of boon for us,” he said. “That actually worked very well for us.”

Parks: 25% of Broadband Homes Prefer Streaming to Theatrical New-Release Movies

With Hollywood studios increasingly opting to release new movies directly to consumers instead of the theater, new data from Parks Associates finds 25% of U.S. broadband households now prefer an over-the-top video subscription service to watch new movies, while 24% still prefer movie theaters to experience first-run movie titles.

The findings come as Parks hosts an online panel, “Future of Video,” discussing the value of content and technology innovations such as premium, transactional, and subscription-based VOD platforms delivering new-release movies directly to consumers rather than in the 90-day theatrical window.

Universal Pictures earlier this year, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, moved animated sequel Trolls World Tour from its theatrical slate to PVOD. The decision saw the movie generate $100 million in PVOD revenue, jumpstarting Hollywood’s renaissance with premium priced movies streaming into consumer homes.

“COVID-19 has upended the traditional content-windowing process, and consumer research shows this paradigm shift is impacting consumer attitudes,” research director Steve Nason said in a statement.

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Nason said streaming access in the home scores higher than movie theaters when consumers report their preferences for first-run movies. The analyst contends the shift might be temporary as nearly 30% of survey respondents had no preference for how to watch a new movie.

“[This] gives theaters a glimmer of hope they can eventually gain back some audience for first-run titles,” he said.

AMC Theatres Says It Will Be Out of Cash After January

AMC Entertainment, parent to the world’s largest theatrical chain, AMC Theatres, said it has received $100 million in stopgap funding to remain afloat financially. The deal with Mudrick Capital Management, disclosed in a Dec. 11 regulatory filing, pays the investment firm 15% in annual interest in exchange for 13.7 million AMC shares.

With coronavirus infections and deaths spiking across the country, movie theaters remain either shuttered (Regal Cinemas) or operating under limited capacity such as AMC and Cinemark. AMC said theatrical attendance has declined 92% since the previous-year period.

The chain said that in the absence of additional liquidity, it anticipates that its cash resources will be depleted in January 2021. To remain viable through next year, AMC estimates its needs approximately $750 million of additional liquidity to fund cash requirements, which include $400 million in deferred rent obligations. The chain is burning through $125 million monthly to maintain operations.

In addition to the pandemic, AMC blamed its fiscal situation and future on delayed studio releases and Warner Bros.’ decision to release all movies concurrently in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service.

“[The] delays of major movie releases, or the direct or simultaneous release of movie titles to the home video or streaming markets in lieu of theater exhibition, have led to theater closures, prevented the opening of theaters in major markets and have had, and are expected to continue to have in the future, a material adverse impact on theater attendance levels and our business,” AMC said in the filing. “These challenges have been exacerbated by the announcement by Warner Bros. that its entire studio film slate for 2021 will move to simultaneous release, which may result in other studios adopting a similar strategy.”

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As of Nov. 30, AMC was operating at 404 of its 594 U.S. theaters, with limited seating capacities and during limited opening hours. The company’s shuttered domestic screens include theaters in some of its major markets, such as New York City and in California. AMC is operating at 108 of its 359 leased and partnership international theaters, with limited seating capacities and during limited opening hours. Through Nov. 30, AMC said it has seen an 86% decline in international moviegoers compared to last year.

“Our current cash burn rates are not sustainable,” AMC said. We currently estimate that if our attendance levels do not significantly improve during … 2021, then we believe the liquidity shortfall would be greater than the estimated $750 million minimum shortfall, which if not addressed would prevent us from continuing as a going concern.”

Universal Inks Theatrical/PVOD Deal With Canada’s Cineplex Cinemas

Following landmark shortened theatrical window/PVOD distribution deals with AMC Theatres and Cinemark, Universal Pictures has ironed out a similar agreement with Canada’s largest exhibitor: Cineplex Cinemas.

Under the deal, Universal and subsidiary Focus Features have the right to offer consumers PVOD access to new release movies with less than $50 million in domestic opening weekend ticket sales after their box office debut. Movies with a higher box office can be released on PVOD 31 days after their theatrical bow. The studio and Cineplex will split PVOD revenue.

“The pandemic has given the industry and movie-lovers around the globe a new appreciation for the magic of the big screen experience,” Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob said in a statement. “We are pleased to work alongside like-minded partners such as Universal, a studio that respects the theatrical window and is committed to the sustainable long-term health of the theatrical ecosystem.”

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Unlike other studios, Universal has a strong slate of titles through the end of the year, including The Croods: A New Age on Nov. 25; Half Brothers and All My Life on Dec. 4; and News of the World and Promising Young Woman on Dec. 25.

“With audience fragmentation accelerating due to the rise in digital, streaming and cord-cutting, as well as the unprecedented issues our industry is facing right now, our relationship with exhibition had to evolve and adapt to the changing distribution landscape,” said Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. “Giving consumers the flexibility to view content on their terms is more important than ever to help expand moviegoing, and Ellis and our partners at Cineplex allow us to increase these opportunities for our Canadian audience.”

Universal, Cinemark Shrink Theatrical Window

Universal Pictures and Cinemark Entertainment have inked a deal that enables the studio to release its movies into the PVOD home entertainment channel from 17 to 31 days after their Cinemark, Century Theatres, Rave Cinemas, Tinseltown and CineArts debut. Cinemark operates 533 theaters and 5,974 screens in the U.S. and Latin America.

Under the agreement, any Universal movie that does better than $50 million at the domestic box office can be made available on PVOD 31 days after its domestic box office debut. Other Universal titles from DreamWorks Animation and Focus Features can be streamed into the home 17 days after their theatrical bow.

The shortened window comes as exhibitors contend with government-mandated shutdowns, distanced seating and other restrictions due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Universal this spring reported generating more than $100 million in PVOD with erstwhile theatrical release Trolls World Tour. Other PVOD releases includes The King of Staten Island and the upcoming Freaky.

That 17-day window is similar to the landmark agreement over the summer between Universal and AMC Entertainment. As with that deal, Cinemark is expected to share in the PVOD revenue with Universal.

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“We believe a more dynamic theatrical window, whereby movie theaters continue to provide an event-sized launching platform for films that maximize box office and bolsters the success of subsequent distribution channels, is in the shared best interests of studios, exhibitors and more importantly, moviegoers,” Mark Zoradi, CEO of Cinemark, said in a statement.

Universal Filmed Group Chairman Donna Langley said the PVOD deal does not take away from the studio’s long history with theatrical distribution.

“Universal’s century-long partnership with exhibition is rooted in the theatrical experience, and we are more committed than ever for audiences to experience our movies on the big screen,” Langley said.

Analyst: Lackluster Weekend Box Office Could See Studios Further Delay New Releases

With Warner Bros.’ Tenet generating $30 million at the domestic box office over two weekends, and Disney’s Mulan almost surpassed by a local sci-fi film (The Eight Hundred) at the Chinese box office, the jury remains out on the state of the theatrical market’s return to normal from the coronavirus pandemic.

The third-quarter domestic box office is trending down 96.8% quarter-to-date to $101.1 million compared with the previous-year period, as theaters nationwide only recently began re-opening — and at reduced capacity. The latest box office weekend was 89% lower than the comparable weekend last year, according to industry figures.

The sluggish re-start, coupled with a majority of screens still dark in major markets New York and California, suggests studios will reconsider bowing major new releases in any great numbers in the near future, according to Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

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Indeed, Warner just pushed back again the theatrical bow of Wonder Woman 1984 from Oct. 2 to Dec. 25 — more than a year after the sequel’s original launch date. Subsequent release dates included June4 and Aug. 14.

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Tony Vinciquerra last week told an investor event the studio would delay all major releases until 2021.

“What we won’t do is make the mistake of putting a very, very expensive $200 million movie out in the market unless we’re sure that theaters are open and operating at significant capacity,” Vinciquerra said.

Pachter says that trend will only grow as nervous studios contend with wary moviegoers and local government restrictions.

“We think the relatively lackluster second theatrical week for Tenet juxtaposed with the difficulty Disney has faced with Mulan has made film releases seem like a risky business in the current environment,” Pachter wrote in a Sept. 14 note.

The uncertainty is bound to increase pressure on studios to shorten the 90-day theatrical window and seek alternative distribution channels such premium and transactional VOD. The COVID-19 era has produced unusual circumstances (and opportunities) for studios, including dabbling in direct-to-consumer distribution.

The ongoing interest for at-home content could impact long-term decisions by studios regarding which content they send to theaters and which goes direct to streaming platforms, according to Pachter.

“This is particularly compelling for the studios that have launched or will soon launch their own subscription/ad-supported streaming video platforms,” he wrote.

 

Disney Offering ‘Mulan’ Access via Roku, Apple, Google Play

The Walt Disney Co. is a longtime champion of preserving the traditional theatrical window, eschewing industry efforts to push premium VOD in the home for new release movies.

As a result, the company’s decision to offer the live-action remake Mulan directly to consumers on Sept. 4 for $29.99 is a one-time bet requiring maximum distribution.

To that end, Disney will sell “premium access” to Mulan to Disney+ subscribers via Google Play, Apple and Roku. The move is significant considering that when CEO Bob Chapek first announced direct-to-consumer access to Mulan on the the company’s fiscal call, it was through Disney+ exclusively. Now Disney will share Mulan revenue with Apple, Roku and Google.

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The move suggests Disney might be having difficulty convincing Disney+ subs to directly purchase the film on its app.

“Starting Sept. 4, with Premier Access, you can watch Mulan before it’s available to all Disney+ subscribers,” Disney said in its FAQ section. “Disney+ will offer Premier Access to Mulan for $29.99 on DisneyPlus.com and select platforms, including Apple, Google and Roku. Once you have Premier Access to Mulan, you can watch as many times as you want on any platform where Disney+ is available. Your access to Mulan will continue as long as you are an active Disney+ subscriber.”

The movie thus far is not available through Amazon Fire TV, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox, despite the platforms affording access to the Disney+ app.

Cinemark CEO No Fan of Shortened Theatrical Window

Following AMC Theatres’ landmark decision to allow Universal Pictures to distribute movies into consumer homes just 17 days after their theatrical debut, rival chain Cinemark is questioning the move indirectly.

Headquartered in Plano, Texas, Cinemark operates 554 theaters and 6,132 screens in the U.S. and Latin America. Speaking on the Aug. 4 fiscal call, CEO Mark Zoradi said theatrical exclusivity for new studio movies must be maintained despite the current COVID-19 environment that has seen the exhibition business shuttered since mid-March.

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Saying the company wouldn’t comment on the strategies of its rivals, Zoradi said an exclusive theatrical window is critically important to the industry.

“While we have publicly stated that we’re willing to have conversations with our studio partners to evolve windows, we’re mindful that an overly aggressive shortened theatrical window could have an adverse impact to the mid-to-tail-end of a film’s life,” he said.

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Key to the AMC/Universal deal is the exhibitor’s revenue-sharing agreement on sales/rentals of titles into the home entertainment market.

Mindful of incremental revenue possibilities via transactional VOD following a fiscal quarter that saw Cinemark generate just $37,000 in ticket sales over 90 days, Zoradi said he remains open to change during the pandemic and beyond.

“We will be very careful and methodical about how we approach any change to the theatrical windows,” he said. “We continue to carefully analyze and research this matter. And we will endeavor to ensure any modifications are in the best interests of the overall industry, our company and our shareholders.”

NBCUniversal CEO: PVOD Addresses ‘Very Large’ Non-Theatrical Audience

Universal Pictures’ landmark distribution agreement with the nation’s largest exhibitor AMC Theatres, enabling it to sell and rent digital access to new-release movies in the home entertainment market just 17 days after their box office, debut taps into a largely unserved consumer, according to NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell.

Speaking July 30 on the Comcast fiscal call, Shell thanked AMC CEO Adam Aron for “his vision” in working together — rather than against — Universal to create new business model and revenue opportunities for both companies.

“We’ve always believed PVOD can be a complement rather than a replacement for a robust theatrical release,” Shell said, adding that the studio has always believed there’s a growing segment of the population that does not go to the movie theater.

“Over the last couple of years, it’s become more increasingly difficult to generate the same returns over the first couple of windows,” he said. “We believe the new model in the U.S. will restore some of those economics, probably not make more movies, but keep production levels the same as in the past.”

Shell said the advantage to the shortened 17-day box office is that PVOD and transactional VOD marketing can be done in the same window.

“It allows us to tap into that incremental [transactional VOD] revenue stream, share it with AMC and other exhibitors, and at the same time preserve that theatrical window that is so critical to the film business,” he said.

Stankey: Movie Industry ‘Better Served’ With Alternative Distribution Options

With major theatrical exhibitors pushing back re-opening screens to consumers due to surges in coronavirus infections in parts of the country, WarnerMedia continues to re-evaluate how it will distribute its slate of new-release movies.

Speaking on the July 23 AT&T fiscal call, CEO John Stankey said he welcomed alternate distribution channels afforded studios and consumers during the pandemic. The successor to CEO Randall Stephenson was asked if Warner Bros. would delve further into releasing movies direct to consumers in their homes — beyond the May 15 offering of animated Scooby-Doo movie Scoob!

Stankey said he would be surprised if “coming out of COVID” the movie industry didn’t see “some adjustment” how new titles are distributed beyond the traditional 90-day theatrical window.

While stressing that theaters continue to play an important role in the distribution of studio movies, including titles such as director Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet, which Stankey contends is meant to be seen on the big screen rather than in the living room, the executive said ongoing uncertainty on the market’s return to normal forces a reboot of traditional distribution.

“I don’t know when theaters are going to re-open,” Stankey said. “There’s no question the longer this [shutdown] goes on, there’s going to be some content on the margin [that we look at and] say, ‘it may be better served’ to be distributed in another construct. I love the fact we have that option now.”

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Stankey said premium VOD and subscription streaming video platform HBO Max afford studios distribution options for previously earmarked theatrical releases. Will Wonder Woman 1984 head to PVOD? Stankey doesn’t think so.

The sequel to the 2017 hit Wonder Woman, the new franchise installment from director Patty Jenkins, was supposed to open on June 5, was later moved to Aug. 14, and is now slated for October in the United States.

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“I would be very surprised if that was the case,” he said. “We’re going to take a piece at a time. It’s nice to have the [D2C] reality.”

Without naming titles, Stankey reiterated Warner’s current box office slate has been “retooled” for direct-to-consumer distribution.

“Yes, there are going to be some shifts as we move forward here,” he said.