Cineplex and Universal Studios agreed to a new deal to shorten theatrical release windows before sending films to video-on-demand.
Universal Studios films can now go through theatrical distribution for as little as 17 days before the studio can decide to make it available at home through digital retailers.
The agreement was announced on Nov. 20 following the rise of COVID-19 cases and widespread closures of movie theatres across central Ontario and Quebec.
“The pandemic has given the industry and movie-lovers around the globe a new appreciation for the magic of the big screen experience,” Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob said in the company’s joint news release with Universal.
“We are pleased to work alongside like-minded partners such as Universal, a studio that respects the theatrical window and is committed to the sustainable long-term health of the theatrical ecosystem,” Jacob said.
Movies that surpass US$50 million on opening weekend at the North American box office will play for the regular 31 days. Movies that fail to meet that threshold can be moved to home viewing and be available for $19.99.
The move follows a similar deal Universal made with AMC theatres in July after the success of Trolls: World Tour being released to video on demand created tension between the studio and movie theatres.
Shorter release windows increase the chance of films making less money, all while expediting the risk of piracy.
It seemed a questionable step to a budding filmmaker like Dominik Woroszyl, who is in his third year of Humber College’s film and television production program.
“It almost feels like a transitional period,” Woroszyl said.
“The moment I realized that the cinematic and theatrical experience was kind of dying was when I would get more excited thinking about the potential of my movies being distributed on streaming platforms rather than the big screen,” he said.
Mark Pettit, who graduated from the Humber Film and TV Production program in 2014, believes the new deal is a very scary move.
“That’s definitely going to further perpetuate the studios in their belief that they need a built-in audience, that they need a sure bet and to make a movie based on movies they made before,” Pettit said.
“They need to maximize those 17 days. It has to be worth our while. It has to be an action movie or a Nolan film, or something that’s big and grandiose and ‘Avatar-esque,'” he said.
Despite growing concern among younger filmmakers, Donna Langley, chair of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, was more optimistic about the partnership.
“With audience fragmentation accelerating due to the rise in digital, streaming and cord-cutting, as well as the unprecedented issues our industry is facing right now, our relationship with exhibition had to evolve and adapt to the changing distribution landscape,” Langley said in the press release.
“Giving consumers the flexibility to view content on their terms is more important than ever to help expand moviegoing, and Ellis and our partners at Cineplex allow us to increase these opportunities for our Canadian audience,” she said.
Full details of the deal have not yet been disclosed.