Le cinéma

How major Hollywood studios are shifting their streaming strategies as the theater industry stages a comeback

  • Theatrical industry execs say movie studios are moving away from simultaneous streaming releases.
  • Theatrical windows are getting shorter compared to pre-pandemic windows, however.
  • Many studios are coalescing around 45 days, but movies could have shorter or longer windows.

During its 45-day exclusive theatrical window, “The Batman” earned $760 million at the worldwide box office, nearly $370 million of which came from the US.

It was the first Warner Bros. movie in more than a year to be released exclusively to theaters after the studio debuted all of its 2021 films simultaneously on the


streaming

service HBO Max.

While “The Batman” is now streaming on Max, the shift is representative of the other major Hollywood studios, which largely seem to be moving away from “day-and-date” releases as they’re called, in favor of exclusive, but shortened, theatrical windows.

Theatrical industry leaders are swaying studio execs by showing that an exclusive window can help build momentum for an eventual streaming release.

“The exclusive window is in the interest not just of the exhibitors but the studios,” Mooky Greidinger, CEO of the Cineworld theater chain, told Insider. “The bigger a movie succeeds in the cinema, the bigger it is on the auxiliary markets.” 

The theater execs say major studio execs have reassured them that they’re committed to the theatrical experience — including those new to the industry, such as David Zaslav, the CEO of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery, and Brian Robbins, who became head of Paramount Pictures last year.

“The energy and enthusiasm that David Zaslav brings to Warner Bros. and his excitement for the business show that theatrical is an important mechanism,” said Rolando Rodriguez, the CEO of Marcus Theatres and chair of National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). “We’ve heard similar feedback from Brian.”

During a speech at last month’s exhibitor conference CinemaCon — where the studios showcase their upcoming films for theater owners — John Fithian, the CEO of NATO, went so far as to declare that day-and-date was “dead as a serious business model.”

The model isn’t completely dead; Universal is releasing the Stephen King adaptation “Firestarter” simultaneously in theaters and on Peacock on Friday. Theatrical industry leaders accept that studios had to release some movies this way during the pandemic and may continue to do so. But they don’t see it as a viable long-term strategy.

“That doesn’t mean that there won’t be distributors that toy occasionally with that concept,” Fithian later told Insider. “But from what we are hearing from the studios, they are focused on their slate of movies that are intended for theaters with an exclusive window.”

the lost city

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in “The Lost City.”

Paramount


Exclusive theatrical windows are shortening to accommodate streaming premieres

The typical pre-pandemic theatrical window was 75 days to 90 days, which meant a movie would play only in theaters for that time before heading to home entertainment. Now, while studios are recommitting to exclusive theatrical releases, the pandemic has led to a shortened window followed by a streaming premiere as media companies also look to build their direct-to-consumer businesses.

Paramount’s “The Lost City,” for instance, debuted on Paramount+ on Tuesday, 45 days after it hit theaters.

Still, streaming is a taboo subject in the theatrical industry. The studio presentations at CinemaCon took great care not to mention their streaming components.

When Warner Bros.’ chairman Toby Emmerich touted that it was the only studio to consistently release movies to theaters last year, the applause was muted; it was also the only studio to release all of its movies day-and-date with a streaming service.

The presentations focused instead on box-office results.

“The Lost City” earned $95 million in the US and $163 million worldwide, an impressive amount for an original comedy in a market dominated by superhero franchises. And “The Batman” was closing in on $800 million worldwide before it became available to stream.

But industry leaders that Insider spoke to at CinemaCon said that while a new standard is emerging for theatrical windows, they’re no longer set in stone. Some movies could get longer or shorter windows than others.

“I’m not sure if there will be a standard window for every content provider,” said Jim Orr, the president of domestic distribution at Universal. “It seems to be coalescing around 45 days, but that’s not a sure thing, either. Nothing will be as carved in stone as it has been in the past.”

Below is every major Hollywood studio’s current theatrical distribution strategy: