As COVID-19 has kept movie-goers out of theaters, some studios have opted for early releases to Premium Video-on-Demand (PVOD) or even Subscription Video-on-Demand (SVOD). Now at least one studio executive said this could signal permanent changes in movie distribution models.
“I think the theatrical business has changed forever,” said Lionsgate Entertainment Vice Chairman Michael Burns. “And it probably took a pandemic to actually start to move that along.” The windows separating theatrical, PVOD, and SVOD releases “are being sliced and diced dramatically,” he said. Over the next few years, “we’re going to have a lot of different options in how we’re going to release those theatrical titles.”
He made the comments during a webcast held Wednesday as part of the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Virtual Conference.
Burns pointed to a recent multi-year deal between Universal Pictures and AMC Theatres that shortens theatrical exclusivity for the studio’s releases to 17 days. The agreement allows the studio to release films to PVOD after three weekends on the big screen, far shorter than the typical 75-day window. As part of the deal, AMC—the world’s largest movie theater chain—will share in PVOD revenue.
The deal settled a public war of words between Universal and AMC over the successful PVOD release of “Trolls World Tour” in April.
The film earned nearly $100 million in PVOD rentals in its first three weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported. Those results “exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told the paper. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” In response, AMC threatened to bar Universal films from its theaters.
This weekend, Lionsgate is planning a straight-to-PVOD release for “Antebellum,” a horror film starring Janelle Monáe. Deadline reports that it won’t get a simultaneous U.S. theatrical release, but it will screen at theaters in some overseas markets.
As we’ve reported, Disney released “Mulan” exclusively on Disney+ Premier Access, but there has been wide speculation about just how much it earned. It will be available to all Disney+ subscribers in December.
So what does this mean for blockbuster franchises such as Lionsgate’s own “John Wick” or “The Hunger Games”? Burns says it will depend on consumers and the studios’ ability to figure out a workable economic model. “But do I foresee that ‘John Wick’ and that the next ‘Hunger Games’ movie are going to be theatrically released? Yes, I do. However, will the windows change? Yes, they probably will. Will there be a lot of different variations on the theme? For sure.”