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The movie industry as we have known it our whole lives already changed dramatically with the advent of infinite in-home viewing options. Further disruption came with coronavirus, which is going to keep theaters under full capacity and encompass myriad other constraints for a length of time that is anyone’s guess. Those two factors have converged with a third major development: NBC Universal and AMC have agreed to shorten the exclusive theatrical window from 90 days to 17.
NBC Universal blockbuster franchises include Jurassic Park and Fast and the Furious.
Considering these two companies’ positions in the marketplace — Universal is neck and neck with Warner Bros. for second place (albeit distant) behind Disney for biggest studio, while AMC is the largest movie theater chain in the United States — this deal is a sign that a similar framework will be inevitable across the industry.
You probably read the first three paragraphs and got very excited about the prospect of blockbuster films coming out on Netflix or another streaming platform about three weeks after their release. Calm down a little with that — these movies will go to pay-per-view first, and you can bet Universal, other studios, and the PPV distributors will test just how expensive they can push the price and still get you to pay.
However, even before the pandemic threw another wrench into the idea of physically going to the movies, families had cost considerations. Let’s say you’re a family of four. If you’re going with your kids, you’re looking at $40-50 for tickets. Good luck staying under $20 with concessions. They might hit you with parking too. Therefore, even if it’s, say, $50 to get a movie on PPV you’re still saving some money.
Further, if the price of going to the movies involves getting a babysitter, then from a pure dollars and cents standpoint it’s a no-brainer to pay almost whatever they’ll charge you for PPV.
At the same time, I don’t see this as complete doom and gloom for movie theaters. Even though I just laid out that the experience is not cheap, it’s a lot less expensive than taking the family to a professional sporting event or amusement park. It probably also costs less than a trip to Dave and Buster’s or Chuck E. Cheese, though it’s in the same relative ballpark.
There will be some blockbusters and critically acclaimed films that people will still want to see within the 17-day window. To wait is to get left out of the conversation. And, there’s going to come a point where we feel imprisoned by the large and especially small screens in our house. Going to the movies is one of the last ways we can get a two-hour sanctuary from our phones. Put it on airplane mode and let the world go on without you.
Nonetheless, it’s going to be paramount for movie theaters to provide an immersive experience that makes it worth it to leave the house. They’ve been building up amenities like reclining seats, 3D graphics, and better food for years. I don’t know what else they can do to stay competitive but they’re going to have to figure it out.