Comcast, Disney Embrace Faster Home Video Release Windows In Wake Of COVID-19

from the adaptation-is-no-longer-optional dept

There's a growing list of things that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed as unnecessary nonsense. Broadband usage caps come first to mind, followed quickly by a lingering disdain for telecommuting by a long list of executives. But the outbreak is also shining a light on another dumb practice that has long been a point of contention: Hollywood movie release windows.

For the better part of a decade now, we've highlighted Hollywood's often vicious opposition to disrupting the traditional delay between a film's theatrical debut, and its release on home video or streaming platforms. Companies like Netflix that have attempted to disrupt this system have traditionally been quickly demonized by the industry. AMC, Regal and Cinemark have all fought tooth and nail to preserve the (usually) 90 day restriction period between a film's theater release and its availability to home consumers, even if such restrictions no longer make much sense in the broadband era.

Movie patrons, like most other sensible people, are now practicing social distancing in a bid to slow COVID-19's expansion and ease the looming strain on already maxed out US healthcare systems. In some locations (like here in Seattle), movie theaters are being told to close their doors entirely. In the process, Hollywood is having to suddenly and quickly rethink its longstanding dedication to a release window model that already made no sense in the modern world, and makes even less sense in the wake of a pandemic quarantine.

Disney, for example, is now considering moving big releases more quickly to its Disney+ streaming video platform:

"A senior Disney executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to a reporter, said that rerouting “Mulan” to the company’s Disney Plus streaming service was not currently under discussion, in part because of piracy concerns. (Disney Plus is not yet available outside the United States.) Even so, Disney is clearly mindful of the power of its video platform. The company brought “Frozen II” to Disney Plus on Sunday — three months earlier than planned. (The musical was released in theaters on Nov. 22.) Disney described that move as “surprising families with some fun and joy during this challenging period."

Comcast NBC Universal announced it would be going one step further, providing online access to many of its film releases long before the traditional window expires:

"Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures said it is making its movies available to watch at home while they are still in theaters, a massive change from Hollywood's long-established business model that could upend the industry if other studios follow suit.

The decision comes amid widespread closures of movie theaters as the global coronavirus pandemic spreads. Authorities in New York City and Los Angeles on Sunday ordered all movie theaters to close; exhibitors had previously said they would limit attendance in theaters to 50% of their capacity. China, the world's second-largest market, has kept tens of thousands of theaters closed since late January."

To be very clear, there will be significant financial hardship for everybody, including brick and mortar theaters, in the months to come. Everybody whose livelihood depends on brick and mortar establishments will need sympathy and every shred of assistance they can get. At the same time, it's still interesting to watch COVID-19 so quickly dissolve resistance to artificial constructs whose usefulness expired decades ago, but have been propped up by flimsy arguments for just as long. And had the industry been less stubbornly resistant to adaptation and change, this particular shift likely wouldn't be quite as painful now.

Filed Under: covid-19, hollywood, movie releases, movie windows, movies
Companies: comcast, disney


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 3:51pm

    Good.

    Theaters are disgusting, germ-infested, spawn pools as is, the last place you need to be in plague times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 19 Mar 2020 @ 4:18pm

    and theaters disappearing is bad why?

    This may sound harsh but what if the entire theater industry just stayed gone after COVID-19 was over. This pandemic has shown that at least the majority of movie theaters aren't necessary. And we know that their hasn't been major innovation, at least not for movie goers, in ages.

    I'm sure some theaters will remain because they innovated a long time ago to serve a niche market or they are in areas that don't have good enough networks to support streaming of the masses. But most could disappear and it wouldn't make much of a difference to the area. Theaters are overpriced, crowded, and the experience you have there is usually replicated by in-home entertainment setups. We all know this but as you said flimsy arguments have kept it propped up for too long.

    Yes, people will need new jobs and you can't just transition an entire industry overnight. But while people are stuck at home companies can work out plans to shift themselves to something different or fold-up and people work in other companies.

    There never was a promise that certain industries must remain forever. If a company was run using unsound business practices (intentional or not) till coronavirus came then those weak spots will show. Just like the inadequacy of the US Healthcare industry.

    For too long people have been trying to prop up companies that have already lived out their usefulness. The coal industry is another example. Sure a few mines will still be needed going forward but you don't need the majority of them to remain. So don't try propping up all of them. The greedy people that run those excess companies should just close up shop and move on to new opportunities.

    Of course each company probably feels it should be the one to remain while the others leave but that is when you let the market decide. I know the US will give out hugh bailouts and other payments to both prople and businesses. I just hope people use that money and the time that have now to make a plan for their future where that don't need to rely on their outdated jobs coming back but instead make a change to a different industry or company.

    As bad, scary, and disruptive as this pandemic is, it is also a good thing for cutting out the excess/fat from our lives. Hopefully we can use this pandemic to essentially reset the world. A reset won't be easy or quick but we as a species will adapt, just like we did after the black plague was done. I just wish that it didn't take the death and suffering of so many for a reset to happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 4:31pm

      Re: and theaters disappearing is bad why?

      As long as theaters start incentivizing the theatrical experience à la The Alamo Drafthouse, I'll keep coming to theaters. Otherwise, I'll stay home.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 4:32pm

        Re: Re: and theaters disappearing is bad why?

        I forgot to mention in the last post that I meant I'll come to theaters after this pandemic.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        bob, 19 Mar 2020 @ 4:34pm

        Re: Re: and theaters disappearing is bad why?

        Exactly, they innovated and serve a market that at home can't compete with. So they will probably come back after the pandemic. However places like AMC which is just a run of the mill theater should go away or just focus on niche markets.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 5:14pm

    I'm wondering what excuses the fuckers will use to insist it's absolutely necessary to put things back how they sre now! I mean, doing something when forced is one thing, continuing when not forced to is completely another!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 7:00pm

    There's a growing list of things that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed as unnecessary nonsense.

    Techdirt is one of those things. Unnecessary socialist Propoganda is the last thing any American needs right now. Why don’t you go ahead and shut down, or move your publication to China?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    NA, 20 Mar 2020 @ 5:55am

    Will SOC make a comeback?

    Not that any MPVDs had deployed it previously, but SOC was FCC waivered in the past for this, to allow MPVDs to release new movies 'on demand' first, then disable 90 days later, or when physical media was available (whichever came first).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selectable_Output_Control

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon E Mouse, 20 Mar 2020 @ 6:30am

    It am bizarro world

    Meanwhile, Netflix and Youtube are adapting to the COVID-19 world by... cutting stream image quality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 6:52am

      Re: It am bizarro world

      Those two services use a huge proportion of the internet's overall bandwidth between them, and they're acting responsibly in the face of unprecedented demand (in some countries, because they're been ordered to). That's not bizarro world, that's how things should be. Would you rather they just start buffering, or causing other services to act poorly because they keep delivering HD streams to phones by default?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 20 Mar 2020 @ 10:03am

    And it just got more interesting. Disney now says that Onward, which was released in theaters only a couple of weeks ago, will now be available for paid download and be on Disney's streaming service in a couple weeks.

    https://mobile.twitter.com/disneyplus/status/1240986457755418625

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joel Coehoorn, 20 Mar 2020 @ 10:25am

    Broadband

    "There's a growing list of things that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed as unnecessary nonsense. Broadband usage caps come first to mind"

    I'm not sure you can reliably make the claim yet. Yes, some ISPs are dropping caps. But in other areas we're seeing new cuts to handle congestion. Netflix and YouTube are now both sending lower-quality streams by default, in order to preserve bandwidth for me essential video services.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RonGriffith (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 10:30am

    Review

    I'm wondering what excuses the fuckers will use to insist it's absolutely necessary to put things back how they sre now! I mean, doing something when forced is one thing, continuing when not forced to is completely another!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chris, 21 Mar 2020 @ 2:11pm

    Disney+ "not available outside the United States"

    Then what the hell have I been paying NZ$10/mo for?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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