Over the years, release gaps—the time between a movie’s theatrical debut and release on streaming services, DVD, or BluRay—have been steadily closing, with the average release gap hovering around 90 days over the past few years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic saw the first wave of a new release style: combined theatrical and streaming release.
Today, as cinemas reopen in compliance with state capacity restrictions, it’s hard to tell if dual releases are a temporary fix or here to stay. Let’s take a look at what’s been happening.
The Closing Release Gap: Time Between Theatrical & Streaming Releases
The end of 2020 ushered in a surprise for theaters: Warner Brothers, whose expected hits in 2021 included Godzilla vs. Kong, Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, and Dune, announced it would premier new movie releases simultaneously in movie theaters across the country and its HBO Max subscription service.
Before Warner Brothers' announcement, nearly every major movie out of Hollywood enjoyed an exclusive theatrical release of approximately three months before being offered as an option for streaming at home.
COVID Brought Dual Theatrical & Streaming Releases
Despite the totality of Warner Brothers' intentions, as the studio's announcement covered all the movies that were expected to be released through the entirety of 2021, this certainly wasn't the first time the exclusive theatrical release window had changed during COVID. In April 2020, NBC Universal released Trolls: World Tour simultaneously on both digital channels and in theaters, becoming the first major dual-release film.
This difference between NBC Universal's decision and other studios who followed suit during the height of COVID-19 restrictions when theaters were closed and Warner Brothers' announcement is that the latter is extended for the entire year—despite that fact that many people in the industry are confident that movie theaters will continue to see pandemic restrictions relaxed later in 2021.
The Warner Brothers announcement gives the impression that the studio wants to make permanent the accommodations put in place because of COVID-19. Some theater owners are critical of the possibility for numerous reasons, including the fact that Warner Brothers and other studios that followed their lead would see a portion of their theater-release profit evaporate.
Release gaps haven’t gone by the wayside. Paramount’s highly-anticipated A Quiet Place II debuted to theaters only for an exclusive 45-day run before the movie is added to any streaming services. A combination of the improving COVID situation and the holiday weekend allowed the movie to bring in $57 million in its opening weekend.
While the release gap is still halved of the usual three months, Paramount’s decision to release the horror-thriller in theaters only goes against the trend other studios have leaned on during the pandemic—and it also speaks to the cinema experience.
Competing For The Movie Audience
Studios like Warner Brothers, NBC Universal, and their counterparts deciding to continue releasing movies simultaneously on digital channels and in theaters will have a big impact on movie-going culture. Even though it might seem like movie theaters will have a difficult time competing for audiences long term, the situation appears to be less dire than some industry insiders expected.
Harvard Business Review analyzed the possibility of early digital movie releases significantly reducing theatrical revenue. The study involved looking at Korean theatrical revenues from 2015 through 2018. During that time, the exclusive theatrical release window was shortened considerably, from three months down to only one month.
The results revealed some surprising news—while theater sales did drop, there was only a 0.8% drop in total revenue. What does that mean? It means that the movie-going experience is competitive with at-home viewing. This is good news for theaters, as it means that they can bolster their customer experience and maintain sales even in a world of dual releases.
Why Fans Want to Return to The Cinema
So what exactly is it that the cinema experience provides to theatergoers that their home can’t provide? There’s a lot more to the answer than just the size of the screen.
Immersing viewers in the experience is something that movie theaters are especially good at. Whether it's the oversized 3D and HD screens that make them feel like they are a part of the action or the top-notch sound systems that vibrate the audio through their shoes, it is nearly impossible for the average person to create a home theater experience that rivals that of the cinema—and certainly not for the cost of a movie ticket.
A Quiet Place II is a great example of how the cinema experience just can’t be replicated at home. HD visuals, expertly-coordinated sound, and even the audience’s reactions are essential to the complete thriller experience. Fans who seek these thrills in any genre of film will keep coming back to cinemas for that experience.
Fans are also passionate about their popcorn and snacks, which led to curbside popcorn and concession sales as a revenue stream for many local cinemas during COVID-shutdown. Now that theaters are reopening, the enticing smell of buttered popcorn is another reason people are coming back to the movies.
Creature comforts extend to the seating found in today's movie theaters as well. With recliners that are supportive and spacious, it's easy for viewers to feel like royalty. Fully adjustable recliners with food and drink holders offer modern conveniences of home in an immersive environment.
Choosing the right recliner is an important element in keeping theaters profitable. As the undisputed leader in the industry, Irwin focuses on where their expertise lies—luxury theater seating. Contact us to learn more about how partnering with Irwin can elevate your theater's future.