As the movie industry grapples with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, distribution avenues continue to undergo major shifts. Companies like Disney and Warner Bros. have both experimented with same-day theatrical and streaming releases, to varying results.
Even so, many upcoming films are sticking to a more traditional theatrical release. Black Widow, in particular, has drawn attention for shifting its release date multiple times, hoping to open just as people return to the cineplex.
Although cinemas are starting to reopen across the country, new practices are being adopted; this is not just in regard to COVID safety, but also distribution strategy.
LESS TIME IN THEATERS
Speaking at an investor conference hosted by Morgan Standley, Disney CEO Bob Chapek shed some light on the company's approach to the future of theatrical releases, as a significant portion of their business revolves around their blockbusters in popular franchises like Marvel and Star Wars.
Commenting on the possible impatience generated by a year without theaters, Chapek noted that future audiences won't "have much of a tolerance for a title, say, being out of theatrical for months...just sort of sitting there, gathering dust."
Commenting on viewing habits during the pandemic, the Disney figurehead also mentioned that he's "not sure there’s going back."
DIVERGING DISTRIBUTION DECISIONS
As the article notes, these comments seem to indicate an interest in shortening the time movies spend in and out of theaters before releasing on streaming platforms. Though this is a clever solution to the problem presented by COVID-19 in the moment, it isn't altogether too surprising.
With huge franchises like Star Wars and Marvel at their disposal, Disney doesn't need to artificially inflate demand with drawn-out waiting periods between theatrical and digital releases. By shortening the time movies spend in cinemas, as well as the gap between the move to streaming, Disney can keep audiences engaged while also driving them to Disney+, an increasingly important concern for the company.
The bigger question is how theatrical distributors will respond to a development like this. Disney has put the squeeze on cinemas before, requiring a certain number of screenings for its larger films or certain profit percentages. A change like this may shorten the amount of time a film is in theaters, but in a world where cinemas are on the decline, it could also encourage audiences to see movies before they leave the big screen.
It's also worth wondering if Disney's competitors will follow suit. Warner Bros. is taking a much different approach with its HBO Max platform, though it's unclear how that decision will pan out.
These decisions will all likely hinge on how certain projects perform. Depending on the numbers generated by theatrical releases like Black Widow, we could see significant shifts in how we watch movies in the future.