Universal Thinks Shortening The Theatrical Window Will Help Theaters Return Quicker

Universal thinks their new AMC deal will lead to theaters opening up sooner. Here’s how.

We’re at an odd place in film history. Hell, we’re at an odd place in world history. There’s never been anything like the COVID-19 pandemic in modern history. And certainly we’ve never seen one stick around this along and spread so far. It’s had an unprecedented impact on countless industries. In our case, perhaps the most relevant aspect of entertainment is the exhibition industry. For months, theaters have been effectively shut down, and it will undoubtedly have big ramifications going forward.

We’ve seen studios adapt by releasing far more or their films directly to streaming. Also notable is the fact that Universal just signed a deal with AMC. This sees their theatrical window dwindle from around 90 days to 17 days — or three weekends. To me, I see this as a first step in a dwindling importance in theaters. Yes, they’ll still have those key opening weekends, but they will swiftly exit in favor of PVOD services.

As it turns out, however, the studio thinks this will have the opposite effect of what my narrow-minded brain thinks. Universal thinks this deal will help theaters.

“We currently are stuck in a kind of chicken-and-the-egg situation in the theatrical business,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said Thursday on Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call (via TheWrap). “Movie studios like ours don’t want to release movies into theaters when there are only a smattering of theaters open. We need a pretty robust amount of theaters open to justify our spend.”

RELATED – AMC, Universal Reduce Theatrical Window To GROUNDBREAKING 17 Days

“But the flip side is, exhibitors can’t open a bunch of theaters if they don’t have any new movies to put in them. Old library movies are not going to drive people to movie theaters,” he continued. “So we think this model will actually allow movies to come back to theaters — when it’s safe — a lot more quickly than they would have in the current environment.”

Okay, so I can see his logic there. Theaters want to open theaters when they can, but they can’t survive off of old movies. But studios don’t want to give them new movies because they can’t profit from them when there are only certain theaters open. On that level, it makes sense. This 17-day window acts as sort of a lifeline for theaters in this hard time, and it allows for studios to do the PVOD strategy not long after.

That being said, I’m more interested in what happens next year when the pandemic finally peters away. Will this 17-day window remain? Audiences will have adapted to this new normal, so reverting back to a 90-day window does seem counterintuitive. Plus, with streaming taking over, things have been skewing away from theaters, it seems. It doesn’t make sense to push back when the natural trend has been pushing in the opposite direction.

Then again, when theaters reopen, it is very possible that audiences will come out in droves. After being cooped up for well over a year, many of us will relish the opportunity to go out. As a supporter of the streaming strategy, even I think I’ll see way more movies in theaters in the first couple of years after than I have in the past couple of years.

But what do you think? Do you agree with Universal that this 17-day window will lead to theaters reopening sooner? Sound off down below!

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