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IMAX Exec Thinks Disney, Others Will Ditch Simultanous Streaming & Theatrical Movie Premieres

Jeff Kotuby

Despite strong showings from multiple films indicating otherwise, IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond thinks Disney, among other streaming companies, will ditch the dual launch and return to the traditional theatrical window release system.

During his company’s Q2 2021 earnings call, Gelfond says that Disney’s decision to release Black Widow as a Premier Access title on Disney+ and in theaters on the same day may have hurt it in the long run.

“The combination of PVOD … significantly affected the box office at the end of the day,” Gelfond said. “It’s hard to quantify it, but some statistics I find interesting, are that (Universal’s summer release F9), which uses the more traditional distribution model, will gross around $700 million worldwide at the end of its run, and Black Widow will gross around half of that. I have no doubt a lot of money was left on the table, but I can’t perfectly say what it is.”

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Gelfond later again went back to Disney’s and Black Widow, saying that he believes companies will head back to theaters once a sense of normalcy is restored.

“I know that every studio has sort of seen the same data that Disney has seen,” Gelfond said, “and I think what Disney did was experiment during the pandemic, which is what they said they were going to do, and I remember (Disney CEO) Bob Chapek saying that. When times are normal, he thinks theatrical exclusivity is important. And I think when he looks at his data and the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, he’s going to come to the conclusion everyone else does, which is the way to maximize value is to have a theatrical window.”

In the short term, however, Disney seems to be winning with its dual-release strategy. Black Widow made $60 million in Disney+ Premier Access sales, the most for any film on the service and will likely remain the gold standard barring an insane, unprecedented opening for Jungle Cruise, which releases in theaters and on Disney Premier Access on July 30. The film’s success on Disney+ Premier Access likely resulted in a $50-70 million loss for theaters, according to Wall Street firm Cowen.

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Much of what Gelfond says elicits mental images of him sitting in a rocking chair, shaking his fist at the sky, saying “they’ll be back, they’ll all be back,” but seeing how the numbers from two established, high-octane franchises are so wildly different, it may be a case where the market dictates what path the industry takes moving forward.

If Black Widow generated far less revenue than F9 due to its dual release, could Disney and other distribution companies move away from that model in favor of an exclusive, theatrical release? The IMAX head seems to think so.

“You used to sell on the same property five times,” Gelfond said. “Now, you’re selling it once and you’re bringing forward some revenues maybe, some windows when you’re selling it. But I don’t think they’re proof points yet, that, that’s a better model. And I think there’s lots of smart people, and I think they’ll come to the same conclusion.”

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