Movie Theater Business Licks Its Wounds, Given Simultaneous Streamer Releases

Movie business intelligence may come down to this: “It’s the window, stupid,” said Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Picture Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group, speaking recently at business’ annual CinemaCon event. “We’re not too bright out in Hollywood, but we’ll figure it out.”

The "stupid" comment is addressed by other theater-minded executives, who may be going in a different direction, trying to grab new revenues by offering streaming access to movies at the same time those movies are running in theaters.

Specifically, he points to the box-office success of 20th Century Studio’s “Free Guy,” a theatrical exclusive release. For him, that means the health of the business is good.



Sony hated the idea of a simultaneous release of movies in theaters and on streaming platforms -- although other movie studios agreed.

But has it missed any long-term transition -- even in a small way? "Stupid" might apply to a different situation.

Four years ago, Rothman had another comment, which went something like this: “Netflix, my ass.” How did that business work out?

Monday-morning quarterbacking is easy. And yes, it's easy to talk about the “window.” Sure, streaming windows might not be replacing movie cinema. But could it take a sizable piece of business? Ten percent? Twenty percent?

In the early 1990s, some thought small cable TV networks were a waste of time. All major media companies ended up owning them.

National Association of Theater Owners president-CEO John Fithian said: “We thought we were going to lose half of [our screens] and we didn’t. … We may lose 1,000.” Well, Fifhian is a movie cinema proponent/lobbyist. He looks to the upside.

Doubt that he predicted the movie theater business in 2020 would lose 80% of its revenue from 2019. This year, the difference is trending to be better -- maybe down just 50% from 2019. Rough estimates are that in five years time, according to Fithian, it will get back to that record $12 billion box office level in 2019.

What lessons have cinemas learned from this experience? And what happens when the next big Netflix-like streaming disruption hits?

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