For much of the first two-thirds of 2017, one of the hottest topics in the film industry was the growing demand for premium video-on-demand services which would push to offer films for rental at a premium pricing rate around seventeen days after their theatrical opening.
That’s far sooner than the current three month home video window and exhibitors were concerned customers might skip the cinema entirely and it would cannibalise their business – so they were understandably against the plan.
Then all the talk, which seemed to reach a head at the end of last Summer, died out as no consensus could be reached and news quickly broke of the two mega-acquisitions – Disney’s planned takeover of Fox and AT&T’s of Time Warner – which shifted the entire industry’s focus. With both of those deals effectively done, it’s coming back around again.
This week, Variety reports that the two biggest studios left that aren’t Disney – Warner Bros. Pictures and Universal Pictures – are expected to reignite discussions about early video-on-demand. More than ever, the new Warners is intent on releasing movies in homes earlier and is expected to re-engage theater owners in discussions next year – as is Comcast Universal chairman Jeff Shell who is an outspoken proponent of a shorter window.
John Fithian, the head of exhibition industry trade group the National Association of Theatre Owners, says no talks are currently taking place: “This does not jive with anything I’ve heard” he tells the trade.
Exhibitors also have a staunch defender in Disney CEO Bob Iger who has been a vociferous ally of the exhibition business and traditional release strategies – even when they bomb on impact like “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” did this month. The new Disney-Fox amalgamation will be responsible for over 40% of the domestic market share which gives them serious power.
However they also are readying their streaming service Disney+ which will include multiple movies with healthy budgets that will forgo a theatrical release. WarnerMedia is readying its own streaming service in 2019 and Comcast is said to be set to “delve more deeply into the world of digital video” in 2019. Paramount this week came to a deal with Netflix to handle their direct-to-streaming films, leaving Sony the only one of the majors who hasn’t really planned anything in that sphere unless they intend to seriously overhaul their advertiser-based SVOD platform Crackle into something else.