It Only Took A Massive Pandemic For Hollywood To Ease Off Stupid, Dated Movie Release Windows

from the forced-evolution dept

Among the dated and dumb business concepts exposed as folly during the pandemic is the traditional Hollywood film release window, which typically involves a 90 day gap between the time a move appears in theaters and its streaming or DVD release (in France this window is even more ridiculous at three years). The goal is usually to "protect the traditional film industry," though it's never been entirely clear why you'd protect traditional theaters at the cost of common sense, consumer demand, and a more efficient model. Just because?

While the industry has flirted with the idea of "day and date" releases for decades (releasing movies on home video at the same time as brick and mortar theaters), there's long been a lot of hyperventilation on the part of movie theaters and traditionalists that this sort of shift wasn't technically possible or would somehow destroy the traditional "movie experience," driving theaters out of business.

The pandemic has changed everything. To the point where AMC Theaters and Universal have struck a pact to shorten the traditional release window, allowing movies to appear on demand just 17 days after they appear in theaters:

"In a stunning reversal, AMC Theatres has struck a historic agreement with Universal that will allow the studio's movies to be made available on premium video-on-demand after just 17 days of play in cinemas, including three weekends, the two companies announced Tuesday.

The deal — which presently only covers AMC's U.S. locations — shatters the traditional theatrical window, a longstanding policy that has required studios to play their films on the big screen for nearly three months before making films available in the home."

The move comes in part because Comcast NBC Universal has been having great success in pushing blockbuster films straight to on demand and streaming in the wake of the pandemic. This initially resulted in AMC Theaters pouting like a spoiled child, with AMC Theatres chair-CEO Adam Aron issuing a rather toddler-esque missive proclaiming that the theater chain would never again carry a Comcast NBC Universal film:

"It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East."

It's understandable that the traditional theater sector is worried, especially given the number of employees that are struggling right now. That said, Aron's comments were one of the more embarrassing "I'm taking my ball and going home" moments in modern history. And as it became clear that the pandemic would be sticking around for a while, it also apparently became clear to AMC executives that (1) pouting isn't really a business strategy, and (2) they had no power to blacklist Comcast/NBC Universal because nobody wants to risk their life by going to the theater right now.

That said, 17 days is still kind of silly, and AMC had to be paid a cut of proceeds to acknowledge reality and the future. Still, baby steps and all that.

Filed Under: hollywood, movies, pandemic, release windows
Companies: amc theaters, nbc universal


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  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 30 Jul 2020 @ 6:42am

    "it's never been entirely clear why you'd protect traditional theaters at the cost of common sense, consumer demand, and a more efficient model"

    It's extraordinarily clear and it's the same reason why they keep hold of regional releases, and have fought against every home distribution model since the TV became popular. People who make a lot of money from a traditional way of doing things will fight tooth and nail to keep things the way they are, even if the new way presents greater long term returns.

    "they had no power to blacklist Comcast/NBC Universal because nobody wants to risk their life by going to the theater right now"

    That's what caused them to finally buckle, but it's a dumb strategy under normal conditions anyway. You dislike the way a supplier does business with you, so your response is to.... ensure that the only way people can consume that supplier's popular product is to go to your competitors? It's like a reverse exclusive, where instead of, say, Spotify spending a bunch of money to get a particular album or podcast, they say "you can get that content anywhere but here".

    That might be a winning strategy when your place of business is what attracts people, but not if its the products you're getting from your suppliers that bring in the crowds. Maybe it would work in markets where they have a local monopoly, but I can't imagine it where people get a real choice of venue.

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

    • icon
      Koby (profile), 30 Jul 2020 @ 7:10am

      Re:

      Exactly, it's Crony Capitalism. Instead of competing based on the best products that meet consumer demand, it's all about who is the most politically connected.

      Faster releases to home viewing have been too long in the making, thanks to the anti-competitive deals that have been cut over the years. Hopefully now, the Spaceballs Instant Cassette is right around the corner.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 6:49am

    That said, Aron's comments were one of the more embarrassing "I'm taking my ball and going home" moments in modern history.

    We're talking about an industry that has fought market forces for years, relying on copyright enforcement to be their dumb muscle until harassing children stopped being profitable. Then they got dragged into the era of streaming platforms kicking and screaming with a tantrum that has never quite stopped.

    "I'm taking my ball and going home" is par for the course for these idiots. It's inevitable. It's no longer a matter of whether they'll throw a tantrum once the "robber baron" style of copyright ownership collapses under its own weight and hubris - it's a matter of how big the tantrum will be, and how much the damage can be contained before the copyright trolls go nuts foaming at the mouth like a trapped rodent.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 30 Jul 2020 @ 7:57am

      Re:

      While I agree with the sentiment, we're really talking about 2 industries here. Since the studio system was broken up in the 60s, the theatrical exhibition part of the movie industry is separate from the production side. It's getting a little muddier in recent times, but what you're seeing here is equivalent to a restaurant chain threatening to only serve Pepsi because they don't think that Coca Cola is giving them a sweet enough deal. Although both sides of this argument are as guilty of each other for the copyright dumbassery, it's for different reasons.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 8:37am

        Re: Re:

        Is this the story where the restaurant chain bans you from drinking Coca Cola at home even if they don't serve it or we are talking about a different story?

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

  • icon
    Paul (profile), 30 Jul 2020 @ 7:15am

    Protected Monopolies

    It was already a rare thing for my family to attend new release movies. We are highly selective, why, because the experience doesn’t always justify the cost.

    They are all losing money and maybe this will ultimately get them to realign the value proposition. I am not holding my breathe.

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

    • identicon
      Cowardly Lion, 30 Jul 2020 @ 9:43am

      Re: Protected Monopolies

      To each their own [I concur with Jason, below]. I confess, restaurants and cinemas rank high on my list of a nice, relaxing break from the old homestead. Overpriced yes. But then so is a visit to Starbucks. And who doesn't have fond memories of back-row fumblings at the local metroplex?

      And to date, unless you have deep pockets, nothing home-brew comes anywhere near IMAX...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 7:59am

    And just like the reinstatement of data caps, film release windows will go back to "normal" as soon as masses of people are allowed to return to theaters.

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

  • identicon
    Jason, 30 Jul 2020 @ 8:03am

    Speaking (obviously, I hope) only for myself, I like going to see movies at the theater. Not every movie, to be sure, but in a more typical summer I'd go a few times a month at least. The problem, as so many people have pointed out, is that the theater experience (i.e., the reason I go) has grown so annoying that it gets harder to justify doing it.

    Rooms packed with people talking, playing games on their phone, and generally making you regret going were bad enough before. Throw in a pandemic and I'm not surprised that theaters are going to be one of the worst affected businesses.

    A good theater experience was, and remains, something I enjoy doing. Hopefully in their effort to start bringing people back in, the theaters will recognize how important it is to provide that enjoyable experience, and put a bit more effort into it.

    (I hope it would go without saying, but I'll say it: in no way do I think any of that should diminish all the other places or means that a person can watch a movie, be it streaming or anything else. There's no reason a decent theater experience and a decent non-theater experience have to be mutually exclusive!)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 8:35am

      Re:

      There is also the fact that home cinema has gotten better in the latter years too, at a reasonable price.

      Put some bucks in here and there and you can get yourself a nice TV, some good sound and well, the only missing thing is pop khornes. Microwave khornes aren't as good as the ones you buy, sadly.

      Still, you get a decent experience without all, or most, of the annoyances attached to it, and some perks too, like not having to go out, being at your own home and asking for whatever you want to eat and no kids, except your own if you're unlucky enough.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 8:46am

    It wasn't enough to stop it/them from just being plain stupid in evety other respect though, was it! So ridiculous to put having control above everything e2lse

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Jul 2020 @ 10:30am

    Maybe we can get them to shorten release date windows for movies on TV, too. Waiting at least another year for last year’s blockbusters to show up on FX or TNT or USA is as patently ridiculous as waiting 90 days for the availability of a DVD/Blu-ray or an On Demand option.

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

    • icon
      Atkray (profile), 30 Jul 2020 @ 12:43pm

      Re:

      I've come to the conclusion that they must think they can make more money off of bargain basement and dollar store sales than the impulse buy when new.

      Imagine if when you saw a movie in the theater the "Groovy Movie™" app on your phone would tell you that it was available now to add to your account for $10.

      Of course if your movie was Battlefield Earth............

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2020 @ 12:05am

    It's only a game

    "I'm taking my ball and going home"

    Well more like "You can take your ball and go home"

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


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