Subscription streaming giant, Netflix, appears to be more than a little pleased over new theatrical release guidelines. The theatrical experience has been consistently under threat for years now, but the past year has proven especially challenging, thanks in no small part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of theaters globally that have permanently closed since the pandemic first struck is difficult to assess. Independent theaters have been hit particularly hard, and although multiplex chains have managed to stay alive, the possibility of bankruptcy remains very real for many. Throughout this challenging time, Hollywood studios as well as the National Association of Theatre Owners have consistently debated the options available, and the path toward saving the traditional theatrical release model has been fraught with difficulty. Now that a vaccine is available for Covid and inoculations have slowly but surely begun, many feel that the prospects for theaters are becoming more encouraging. This may be true, however, even if theaters do manage to fully survive the pandemic, it appears that how they operate is now going to face some considerable changes.
The Wrap is now reporting that shrinking theatrical release windows could indeed be permanent, and that suits Netflix just fine. Traditionally, 90 days has been the standard for a film to remain in theaters before a streaming release, but ongoing changes have seen major studios like Paramount, Warner Bros., and Universal significantly alter that timeframe. Most recently, Paramount shortened its theatrical window to 45 days – a move that Netflix chief product officer, Greg Peters, welcomes with unfettered enthusiasm:
We’re enthusiastic to see sort of a shift, and maybe enabling more and more of that for both us and for other entertainment options out there. I’m optimistic. And I’m mostly optimistic, because it’s what consumers want… It’s hard to buck that trend for too long. And I think that’s eventually where things go.
Aside from the obvious impact of Covid, it’s difficult to accurately pin down all the reasons why consumers appear to be more interested in streaming titles from home rather than heading to the cinema. Certainly, the cost of seeing a film in the theater is too pricey for some and the comfort of staying in and watching a new release from home is hard to beat. But at the same turn, the experience of watching a film at a theatre is a major part of cinema, and has been since the medium became commonplace. Netflix and other major streaming services may welcome this change as it greatly benefits their own model, but there will be no shortage of those (filmmakers and audiences members alike) who feel it’s a slippery slope.
From Netflix’s point of view, shortening the theatrical release window even more than it had previously been is a simple case of supply and demand. Customers may increasingly prefer to stream new releases than to catch them in cinemas, and in that sense, Netflix and others like it are simply doing what audiences want. But theaters remain a valid method by which to watch films and more should be done to keep that option alive.
Source: The Wrap