With the film business in chaos, as one of the industries most severely hit by Covid restrictions, two announcements have given an indication of how exhibition might look as cinemas start to re-open in some of the biggest global markets.
Cineworld – the world’s second biggest cinema chain – says it’s Regal-branded US sites will re-open on 2nd April with the release of the Warner Bros creature feature Godzilla vs. Kong. Cineworld venues in the UK will start admitted film fans again from 17th May, when a large tranche of Covid restrictions are scheduled to be lifted.
The firm closed its sites across the world back in October 2020, citing a lack of major studio releases to attract audiences during the pandemic.
Warner Bros recently courted controversy – angering both exhibitors and film-makers – when it announced that all of its 2021 releases would be available on the studio’s HBO Max streaming service on the same day as they open in cinemas. They’ve struck a deal with Cineworld to give the chain exclusive access to its films before the streaming release from next year; American audiences will have 45 days to see films before they are available online; in the UK, the window will last for 31 days.
In a statement, the head of Cineworld, Mooky Greidinger, said, “We are very happy for the agreement with Warner Bros. This agreement shows the studio’s commitment to the theatrical business.”
But having studios doing exclusive deals with exhibitors raises the interesting prospect of a cinema chain’s prospects depending on the studios it works with, as audiences who want to see a Warner Bros release on the big screen will have no choice but to find a Cineworld.
As Warners have indicated their willingness to step back from their 2021 day-and-date release schedule, the idea of studios combining their theatrical and streaming releases is continuing elsewhere.
Disney have announced that its upcoming Marvel film Black Widow will is having its release delayed from May to July, so that more cinemas will be open and audiences will feel more comfortable returning – but the film will be available to Disney+ subscribers to watch at home, for an additional fee of $30. Mulan was the first Disney film to be launched on Disney+ as a “premium title,” with some cinema chains refusing to screen it when they reopened.
Disney are also bringing Emma Stone’s Cruella to Disney+ subscribers – for a fee – on the same day as it’s theatrical release, in late May, while the next Pixar film, Luca, will go straight to Disney+, bypassing cinemas altogether.
Universal Pictures was the first studio to try releasing major titles directing to streaming services as a result of cinema closures, prompting angry responses from the world’s biggest cinema chains.
The global cinema industry is sure to be fractured in the coming year, with different territories relaxing Covid restrictions at different speeds and with some studios favouring streaming or doing deals directly with exhibitors.
Everything, for now, is an experiment, as the industry tries to find the best way to start making money again, as life slowly returns to normal. What the business will look like two or three years down the line will very much depend on the results of these experiments.