TV-Centric Film Players Changing Game: Helping/Hurting Theater Owners?

Theater owners continue getting hit from all sides these days -- from competing at-home digital viewing technologies, to movie studios looking for a narrowing of theater-to-video-on-demand exhibition windows.

And now Netflix wants to step over the theatrical threshold with “Beasts of No Nation,” which opens this past weekend.

For its part, Paramount is working on reducing the theatrical to video-on-demand window from the traditional 90 to 17 days. A couple of theater chains have signed on, but others are rebelling, saying they will not screen any Paramount film that has the reduced window. Theater owners participating do get an extra financial incentive from video-on-demand profits.

Others have attempted similar efforts through the years. For example, Mark Cuban and his Landmark Theaters/Magnolia Pictures produced and distributed movies that ran in a small number of theaters at near or at the same time as video-on-demand, through his previous TV cable channel HDNet.

Netflix -- another TV-centric company -- may be similar in one regard: Its movie, “Beasts” also isn’t debuting in wide-release. Just 29 venues.

Netflix’s goals are different.  What the company really wants is to get noticed and be taken seriously. What better way than attempting to garner Oscar buzz?

This is a similar strategy to Netflix’s TV goals -- gunning for Emmy awards on TV with the likes of “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”

All this to curry future favor with TV and film producers for more high-end TV and movie productions.

Netflix also has a major lure: lots of money. It recently spent $2 billion in TV and film production and acquisition costs. In return, one will imagine producers will get creative freedoms -- a la HBO, and perhaps the likes of film-centric The Weinstein Company.

But what will “freedoms” will theater owners get from all of this -- the ability to simulcast operas and musical concerts? Is that enough? Or a “share” of VOD profits? Seems theater owners need a better plan.

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