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.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

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.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

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.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

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.

Follow us on Instagram

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.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

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.

Follow us on Instagram

“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.

Lionsgate Eyeing Consumer-Direct Movie Option While Pledging Loyalty to Theatrical

With studios increasing distribution of select titles direct to consumers in the home while theaters remain largely shuttered worldwide, Lionsgate has dabbled in the PVOD window, releasing I Still Believe to consumers just weeks after its March 12 theatrical debut.

On a May 21 fiscal call, Joe Drake, chairman of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, was asked if the studio would consider distributing titles directly rather than through third-party platforms such as iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and Amazon, among others.

Drake, who said Lionsgate remains bullish on the theatrical business model, said the D2C concept, like a lot of the distribution status-quo during the COVID-19 pandemic, is being analyzed and tweaked, while remaining in solidarity with the theatrical window.

“One of the things [Lionsgate] prides itself on is being flexible and agile,” Drake said. “We still believe theatrical is a big driver of our business, and will continue to play aggressively in that space.”

Lionsgate’s first theatrical release is slated for Aug. 21 with horror film Antebellum.

At the same time, the executive said that when the studio sees an opportunity for distributing a movie direct to the consumer, it won’t hesitate. Drake didn’t directly answer whether that would include bypassing existing transactional VOD platforms in favor of Starz or another proprietary platform.

Lionsgate currently releases about 30 movies a year through digital channels, a strategy Drake said the studio would expand, but not at the expense of exhibition partners.

“I don’t think any company has done a better job exploiting niches and opportunities with audiences, and we’ll continue to do that,” he said.

Separately, Lionsgate said it is actively working with credit card companies such as American Express to include free Starz OTT service as part of a promotion. The studio/distributor currently has a Redbox promotion by which new Starz subscribers get nine free one-day kiosk disc rentals at a $5 monthly fee for 90 days.

“We think some of [those] consumer bases [with Redbox] overlap. We think there’s a great partnership there. We’ll continue to talk to almost anybody,” said Kevin Beggs, chairman of Lionsgate Television Group.

Lionsgate expects to generate upwards of 15 million combined Starz OTT, StarzPlay, Spanish-language Pantaya and StarzArabia subscribers by the end of the fiscal year. It ended the quarter with 10 million.

Warner Cautiously Entering PVOD Window

Warner Bros. May 15 dips its toes into the controversial premium video-on-demand waters, releasing previously earmarked animated theatrical release Scoob! directly into homes for $19.99 for a 48-hour rental, or $24.99 for digital purchase.

The movie is the only major theatrical title Warner has thus far switched from the box office distribution direct to home entertainment retail. Other titles such as Wonder Woman 1984 have had their cinema debuts pushed back.

“While we’re all eager to be able to once again show our films in theaters, we’re navigating new, unprecedented times, which call for creative thinking and adaptability in how we distribute our content,” studio boss Ann Sarnoff said in a statement last month. “We know fans are eager to see Scoob! and we’re delighted we can deliver this feel-good movie for families to enjoy while they’re home together.”

Warner is hoping the movie resonates with consumers in the home the way Universal Pictures’ Trolls World Tour did. The sequel to Trolls generated $100 million in revenue, prompting Universal to declare it would revisit PVOD as a simultaneous distribution option with theatrical.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

That announcement caused a firestorm among exhibitors with AMC Theatres (and Regal Cinema) angrily declaring it would no longer screen Universal (or any studio) movies with concurrent digital distribution.

Warner parent AT&T this week sought to head off any controversy with CFO John Stephens telling a virtual investor conference the studio remained firmly behind the theatrical window — for now.

“We’ll learn from [Scoob!],” Stephens told the MoffettNathanson 7th Annual Media & Communications Summit. “We’re interested in new ideas, whatever’s good for consumers, but we’ll continue to work with our [exhibition] partners.”

With theaters nationwide remaining shuttered due to the coronavirus and lack of new-release movies, PVOD money talks. And Warner Bros. & Co. are listening.

AMC Theatres Stock Skyrockets on Amazon Buy Scuttlebutt

Shares of AMC Entertainment, parent of fiscally challenged AMC Theatres, are up nearly 30% in pre-market trading May 11 following news Amazon has been kicking the tires about a possible acquisition.

Amazon’s acquisition interest, first reported by The Daily Mail citing sources, would give the e-commerce behemoth greater control of the global box office. Amazon, unlike Netflix, remains a believer in the theatrical window — a stance some observers contend helped its 2016 movie, Manchester by the Sea, win Oscars for Best Actor (Casey Affleck) and Best Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan).

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

AMC, the world’s largest movie exhibitor, is owned by China’s Wanda Group and is reportedly facing bankruptcy since the chain (with 11,000 screens) was shuttered in March due to the coronavirus. With zero revenue and about $4.7 billion in debt, many analysts believe the chain won’t survive in the post-COVID-19 economy amid social distancing.

Amazon, which reported profit of $2.5 billion in its most-recent fiscal period, has shown interest in non-tech, old-school businesses such as acquiring Whole Foods and the Washington Post.

Follow us on Instagram

In 2018, Amazon (and Netflix) reportedly had interest in Mark Cuban’s Landmark Theatres chain, which ultimately was sold to Cohen Media Group.

Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson just announced new coronavirus guidelines, which include easing lockdown restrictions by July on hospitality businesses such as Odeon Cinemas — which is owned by AMC.

AMC CEO Adam Aron, who remains furloughed along with 600 other executives, has publicly expressed a wish that the chain could be operational by July.

In Georgia, despite Gov. Brian Kemp allowing exhibitors to re-open April 27, most major chains remain shuttered due to new studio movie releases being pushed back and a lack of theater staffing.

Regardless, Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, contends the acquisition rumor is just that.

“The price is [would be] $10 billion, not a few hundred million,” Pachter said in an email. “I don’t see Amazon buying the biggest theater chain in the world when they can accomplish the same thing buying a much smaller chain. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Chapek: Disney Sticking with Theatrical Window — For Now

Walt Disney Studios plans to stick with the traditional 90-day theatrical window for all major movie releases, CEO Bob Chapek said from his home on the company’s May 5 fiscal call.

With Universal Pictures causing a maelstrom of controversy last month when it announced it would opt for concurrent theatrical and premium video-on-demand distribution for new move releases after generating $100 million from animated feature Trolls World Tour, Chapek said the results awakened Disney to the reality of alternative distribution — especially during the pandemic and unusual market conditions.

He said any changes to Disney’s theatrical distribution would be done on film-by-film basis going forward, including transitioning Artemis Fowl from the box office to Disney+ on June 12.

Follow us on Instagram

“With changes involving consumer dynamics or certain situations like COVID-19, we may have to make some changes to that [90-day theatrical] strategy just because theaters aren’t open or aren’t opened to the extent that [they’re] financially viable,” Chapek said.

He said that with other major Disney box office releases re-scheduled later in the year or into 2021, the studio “very much so” believes in the 90-day window for major movies.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Universal’s decision to include PVOD caused major exhibitors such as AMC Theatres and Regal Cinema to warn they would not screen any title being concurrently made available on digital platforms.

Chapek reiterated that Disney has dominated the global box office in recent years with its Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars movies. The studio generated about $13 billion in worldwide box office in 2019, including a record seven $1 billion releases, including latest Lucasfilm release Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

AMC Theatres Threatens to Drop Distribution of Universal Pictures Movies; Studio Responds

The world’s largest movie theater chain is fighting back against NBCUniversal’s plans to release at least some movies simultaneously to theaters and to homes.

On the heels of Universal Pictures’ animated feature film Trolls World Tour generating upwards of $100 million from premium video-on-demand and other digital channels in less than three weeks of release, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell April 28 told The Wall Street Journal the studio would pursue a simultaneous theatrical/home entertainment release strategy going forward.

“The results for Trolls World Tour exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell said. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron promptly fired off a letter to the studio’s chairwoman, Donna Langley, saying it would no longer screen Universal movies if it turns a cold shoulder to the traditional 90-day theatrical window.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“This radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment,” Aron wrote in the letter. “Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theaters globally on these terms.”

AMC’s strategy mirrors exhibitor sentiment that has shunned Netflix original movies since the subscription streaming video behemoth releases its movies concurrently with any theatrical distribution.

Aron, along with 600 AMC executives, has been furloughed as the chain saw its business literally shuttered over night to help curb spread of the coronavirus. He said Shell’s comments suggest Universal is moving away from a long-term business model between AMC and Universal.

Follow us on Instagram

Aron said the chain, which remains largely closed despite governors in select states authorizing the re-opening of theaters, would not distribute Universal — or any other studio’s content — globally if they stray away from the “theaters first” doctrine.

The executive said theatrical releases is a segue for future retail distribution, including boosting publicity, positive word-of-mouth, critical acclaim and downstream revenue. Aron said Universal wants to have its cake and eat it too by combining distribution channels.

“[Universal] assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on how its actions affect us,” Aron said.

He said AMC has invested significant time and energy with Universal executives over the past few years trying to figure out a new distribution models that would be beneficial both parties. Aron has previously mentioned helping studios distribute movies on its website and in theaters — the latter through packaged media.

“AMC is willing to sit down with Universal to discuss different windows strategies and different economic models between your company and ours,” Aron wrote. “However, in the absence of such discussions, and an acceptable conclusion thereto, our decades of incredibly successful business activity together has sadly come to an end.”

Universal Pictures, in a statement, called Aron’s letter disappointing. It said the decision to release Trolls World Tour on PVOD was done to offer consumers sheltering in home an alternative entertainment option.

“Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move,” Universal said. “In fact, given the choice of not releasing Trolls World Tour, which would not only have prevented consumers from experiencing the movie but also negatively impacted our partners and employees, the decision was clear.”

The studio said it still believes in the theatrical business model and said it has made no comment to contrary. It said it always seeks to make its movies available to as wide an audience as possible.

“We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners, but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and [trade group National Association of Theatre Owners] to confuse our position and our actions,” Universal said.