Comcast Exec Touts Success of Short Theatrical Windows; Will Universal Movies See Shorter Turnarounds to Peacock?
The COVID-19 pandemic changed so much about the entertainment industry that its full effects are likely still not known yet. One big shift the industry had to grapple with was the closure of movie theaters across the United States. Many studios began sending their top movies directly to streaming, bypassing shuttered cinemas so that at least someone would see their films.
Fast forward a few years, and the movie theater business still hasn’t recovered fully. Theater attendance is now at 64% of pre-pandemic levels, and some theater chains have adopted less customer-friendly methods of attracting new revenue, such as dynamic seat pricing. If that sounds like a pain in your wallet you’d rather avoid, you might want to look into a subscription to Peacock.
That’s because Peacock is the first streaming stop for Universal films once they leave theaters. Peacock is famous for zigging while the rest of the streaming industry zags, and as more studios are trying to build robust theatrical film slates to enhance their revenues, Universal might be preparing to send its movies to streaming faster than ever. That’s according to comments made by Jason Armstrong, CFO of Comcast — the company that owns Universal and Peacock— during the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference.
Armstrong was asked which factors he attributed Peacock’s recent success to. The company added 5 million paid subscribers at the end of 2022, and Armstrong ascribes that success in no small part to the company’s ability to stream Universal movies after short theatrical windows.
“If you unpack [Peacock’s] gains, you’d say it’s largely content success and availability that’s driven that,” Armstrong said. “We’ve had our Pay-One rights come back to us, which means movies like [“Jurassic World: Dominion”] and “Minions” are moving into a window on Peacock, which is helpful. We’ve had day-and-date opportunities with Peacock. [“Halloween Ends”] is a good example of that.”
Armstrong spoke about movies coming from Universal in 2023 as a reason that growth should be expected to continue.
“As you fast forward to 2023, just step down the same pecking order, we got huge opportunity coming out of the Studios,” the CFO continued. “We’ve got a great slate for this year with “Fast X,” “Mario.” Right now, we’re in the market with “Puss in Boots” which will obviously roll on to streaming in the not-too-distant future. So super opportunity there to continue with sort of the Pay-One window impacting and positively benefiting Peacock.”
So, could more of those films come to streaming in a short time frame? It’s certainly possible. Movie studios have an agreement with theater chains in the post-COVID world: with a few exceptions, most films will stay in theaters for at least 45 days before heading to streaming. This deal is mutually beneficial, as both sides see enhanced revenues over the day-and-date releases that were so common at the height of the pandemic.
But Universal plays by its own rules after the 45-day minimum passes. Recent films like “M3GAN” and “Violent Night” have come to streaming after 49 days each, despite good box office numbers. Perhaps only mega-earners, like the aforementioned “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” will see extended theatrical windows at Universal from now on. That film has been in theaters for 69 days as of the time of this writing, and has made $442 million to date.
If Universal does decide to shorten the theatrical stays of its movies, it will be defying the trends of other major players in Hollywood. Warner Bros. Discovery has nixed the idea of day-and-date releases altogether, and many of its films see theatrical windows of 70 days or longer. Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed in the company’s most recent quarterly earnings call that his company would also extend its movies' time in cinemas, in hopes of bringing families back to the theatrical experience.
“Fast X” and “The Super Mario Bros.” movie will be excellent bellwethers to judge whether Universal is paring down its theatrical windows. If those movies come to streaming in 50 days or less, it will mean that NBCUniversal is once again zigging while its movie studio/streaming peers are zagging.
Peacock is a subscription video streaming service from NBCUniversal that includes original shows, blockbuster movies, and classic television series. Peacock is home to “Yellowstone,” and “The Office,” as well as original hits like “Poker Face” and “Bel-Air.” You can also watch live sports including Sunday Night Football, Premier League, and exclusive MLB games. Peacock is also the exclusive home to many WWE events like WrestleMania. Premium Plus subscribers can stream their local NBC feed in all 210 markets.
Peacock includes news, entertainment, sports, late-night, and reality from various NBCU properties including NBC, Bravo, and E!.
Peacock also includes the entire library of Bravo shows and has exclusives like “Below Deck: Down Under.” They also include live and on-demand access to Hallmark channels.
The company has acquired the rights to many classic shows like “Parks and Recreation,” and the entire Dick Wolf library including “Law & Order” and “Chicago Fire.”
The service also features blockbusters and critically-acclaimed films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination and content acquired from Hollywood’s biggest studios.