At the end of 2014, Sony released the film The Interview simultaneously both digitally and in a select range of movie theatres. I observed at the time that this could have proved to be a significant step in how movies were distributed, with ‘day and date’ (releasing digitally at the same time or extremely close to theatrical release) releases possibly becoming a commonplace thing. Movie theatre owners like AMC scoffed at how poorly The Interview had done, dismissing its success to the press coverage it was receiving, and definitely having nothing to do with its new – and unplanned – digital focused release model.
Fast forward six months, and now Paramount are dipping their toe in the admittedly lonely pool of digital distribution. While it’s not ‘day and date’ releasing, AMC and Cineplex have agreed to let America’s second oldest film studio release Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse only 17 days after its (small) general cinema release.
Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chair told the Hollywood Reporter:
“Exhibition for the first time was open-minded about evolving our business instead of sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring what is happening around us. This is all about changing the definition of theatrical windows. Instead of starting the countdown from when a movie opens, we are starting from when it ends.”
While this trial is certainly small in scope, the fact that two of North America’s largest movie theatre chains have not just considered the proposal but are actually going forward with it cannot be understated. For a long time now – as recently as earlier this year – the big theatre chains were dismissive of the concept of shortening the release window for movies as they move from chain to physical and digital release. It’s a massive step that they’ve changed their position in such a short space of time, to what audiences are not only wanting but have started to expect.
Of course, in order to persuade AMC and Cineplex, there had to be some incentive. In agreeing to the trial, the two chains will receive a cut of rental revenues for 90 days after the film’s release. This is an interesting hook, and a necessary one in order to secure AMC and Cineplex’s blessing. It may mean that this is the path we need to take in order to effectively establish shorter distribution windows, and will perhaps set a precedent for arrangements to follow. We’re obviously not going down the Netflix preferred route of at home and theatrical release on the same day (something most cinema chains are vowing they will never allow) but we are edging closer to what people want in their viewing experience.
We shouldn’t forget though, that cinema did not kill the theatre, cartoons didn’t erase the art form of the comic and shorter theatrical windows will not discourage people from going to the movies. This kind of deal matters because is allows audiences more choice, and to be more discerning about the kind of movie they want to watch and where. The movie going experience – a monstrous sound system and a 300ft wide screen – is perfectly suited for big blockbuster movies like Star Wars or Jurassic World. But is it the optimal setting for experiencing smaller-scale, independent titles that may struggle to find a large audience on general release? I would argue not, and with a shortened theatrical window, those films will have a better opportunity to turn profit, as they become available for digital or disc purchase soon after.
This new model is exciting for the film industry, and is not a threat to the movie theatre experience. As with all areas of entertainment, digital technology is changing distribution models for the better, opening up new areas of monetization and putting more control in the hands of customers. This shouldn’t be seen as the end, it is in fact, a new beginning.
Miles Weaver is Piksel’s Innovation Lead, overseeing the strategy, development and management of concepts stemming from Piksel’s Innovation Programme. Miles is an avid commentator on the digital TV revolution speaking regularly at industry events and being published in The Guardian and Read/Write. Connect with him at @MrMilesWeaver