Ever since the invention of home video, movie studios and cinema chains have been battling it out in regards to the window between a film’s theatrical and home video release. Cinemas naturally want a longer window so customers are more inclined to go to the movies, since it will be longer before they can experience the film in their own home.
Movie studios want profits to be as high as possible, and thus want their films on physical and digital media platforms as soon as possible. The battle has laid dormant for a while, but reportedly Warner Bros. and Universal are two studios gearing up for talks regarding shortening the theatrical windows of their movies.
There were plans for a deal last year, but they swiftly fell through. That deal would have meant movies would have a shorter run in cinemas before going to digital platforms, with chains then getting a cut of the profits for a set amount of time from digital sales/rentals. However, the one holdout was Disney, who went ahead and bought 20th Century Fox, taking a major player out of the game.
The other studios then fell out of the deal as well, after Warner Bros. was also purchased, this time by AT&T. But now that the studios are settled under their new ownership, discussions regarding the theatrical window are set to re-open, just as studios are about to enter the streaming wars, with WarnerMedia planning to launch their platform next year, and Universal expected to follow suit.
If the deal goes through, obviously a compromise will have to be found to appease cinema chains, who risk losing money thanks to the shorter windows. Studios may say that it’s more about combatting privacy and taking advantage of the theatrical marketing, but the timing means it’s far more likely that they want big, new movies on their streaming platforms faster.
While cinemas can still rely on massive blockbusters to reel in fans on the first weekend, it might be the middle class of film that suffers, since those lesser-budgeted ones are the movies that people will likely decide to miss and wait for the home release.
What that means for Hollywood is anyone’s guess, considering that those mid-tier budgeted movies that used to be movie star-driven and a cinema staple are already disappearing.
We’ll wait and see if the studios are able to push a deal through this time, and if so, what kind of window and compensation we’re looking at. With their streaming platforms launching next year as well, it’s a very interesting – and crucial – time in the film industry.