Regal Cinemas is reportedly close to settling on an agreement with Universal Studios addressing the theatrical to on-demand release window.
Regal Cinemas is reportedly getting closer to forming an agreement with Universal Studios, joining other large movie theater companies with similar theater to digital release agreements. This year has seen the release of big Hollywood productions severely mitigated by the pandemic, such as a highly anticipated Tenet, Mulan, and Wonder Woman 1984. As movie theaters attempt to adapt to the new reality of pandemic-era movie-watching, many have struck partnerships with big studios.
AMC and Cinemark have recently closed deals with Universal to shorten the studio’s releases’ theatrical window. After 17 days of a physical release in these theaters, Universal’s films can then proceed with a digital on-demand release, likely with large streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu. Such a compromise allows movie theaters to retain box office numbers while also allowing the studio to entertain the larger viewer base staying at home due to COVID-19. After all, over 60% of theaters in the country are closed. So, following the deals with AMC and Cinemark, it is only a matter of time before many other theaters, especially the large ones, would strike similar deals.
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According to Variety, Regal Cinemas is close to settling on a similar agreement with Universal. Altogether, Regal, AMC, and Cinemark represent over 50% of the U.S. movie theater market. So far, Universal is the only major studio to strike such a deal with movie theaters, as Warner Bros. released Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day, and Mulan debuted exclusively on Disney+, skipping the theatrical release.
However, distributing films to a readily available audience through streaming platforms is not as simple as it looks. Studios need to evaluate whether digital debuts are their best option or whether it may be more favorable to delay a big theatrical opening. While the former may risk some potential box office numbers, the latter is even more uncertain; virus case numbers have varied at an unpredictable rate leaving theaters unable to tell how long they can even stay open. When Tenet first premiered in September, 70% of movie theaters in the U.S. had reopened, but hundreds had shut down again by Thanksgiving.
It is also worth considering that there are films that may have to open overseas contractually, as nearly every other country outside of the United States has been more capable of mitigating the coronavirus risk. Staggering international release dates while halting any such releases in the states poses another problem, such as piracy. This is likely why the most straightforward option, for now, might be to pursue a joint theatrical and digital release.
In an ideal post-COVID-19 world, there will be a return to the typical movie-going experience, complete with the excitement of driving to the theater to see the big blockbuster of the year. Though, it is likely that the pandemic has irrevocably restructured the conventional theatrical release ecosystem, especially as streaming platforms have become the new normal. Nonetheless, movie-goers and studio executives both agree that the theater is a larger-than-life experience meant to be maintained. So, while movies may face more digital releases, they will certainly not disappear from the plush, leather seats of a post-pandemic movie theater.
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