Universal and AMC Theatres struck a deal on Tuesday that would see the theatrical exclusivity window shortening from 75 to 17 days. That means after those 17 days, Universal can pull their movie out of theaters and put it wherever they like, probably On Demand.
Now, the deal doesn’t mean they will absolutely pull the movie after 17 days, but they do have the option if they so choose.
“I fully anticipate some movies will stay in theaters exclusively a lot longer than 17 days if we’re having a good theatrical run,” NBCUniversal CEO, Jeff Shell, said in an earnings call.
That means if they’ve got a movie that’s seeing little drop-off in ticket sales week after week, they might decide to leave it in theaters until that well dries up. It’s still a far cry from just two or three decades ago when they would let a movie play in theaters for a year or more, allowing it to build momentum or catch some buzz.
Shell sees this move as one that will see theaters opening up sooner rather than later in the midst of this global pandemic.
“We currently are stuck in a kind of chicken-and-the-egg situation in the theatrical business,” Shell says. “Movie studios like ours don’t want to release movies into theaters when there are only a smattering of theaters open. We need a robust amount of theaters open to justify our spend. But the flip side is, exhibitors can’t open a bunch of theaters if they don’t have any new movies to put in them.
“Old library movies are not going to drive people into movie theaters. So we think this model will actually allow movies to come to theaters – when it’s safe – a lot more quickly than they would have in the current environment.”
While I want to believe this is a good thing that’s coming from a place of wanting theaters to open sooner rather than later, I can’t help but see another nail in the coffin for the theater model. I’ve been a longtime proponent of movie theaters and still see it as the best way to enjoy a movie. Not only are theater sound systems and large screens a more immersive experience, but there’s also something to say for the comradery and communal experience. At the end of the day, watching a movie with a big crowd in a movie theater is just more enjoyable.
I understand that things evolve, and things change. I’m not a dinosaur cursing at the meteor streaking across the sky, but the little kid in me that sees the movie theater as a transformative and possibly life-saving haven, is just feeling down about the sad prospect of losing it.