Cineworld shortens theatrical window in Warner Bros deal
James R | On 24, Mar 2021
Cineworld has become the latest exhibitor to take steps to shorten the theatrical window, with a new deal with Warner Bros in place ahead of reopening its doors.
The past year has seen a number of high-profile movies go straight to digital platforms while cinemas have been closed, with Premium VOD rentals given to such titles as Trolls World Tour, Scoob!, Judas and the Black Messiah and The Little Things.
In the UK, 1.1 million viewers rented a PVOD title between March 2020 and the end of the year. These rentals (all priced above £10) accounted for 6 per cent of all digital rentals in that period and 20 per cent of total rental spend by audiences.
Universal paved the way with Trolls World Tour, which sparked backlash within the industry. Since then, however, the distributor has inked a deal with AMC cinemas in the USA to accommodate PVOD releases for its titles, with a 17-day theatrical window at its venues followed by the option for Universal to release a movie as PVOD rental. If a film is performing well in cinemas, Universal won’t put the movie out on PVOD, while AMC will get a cut of any PVOD revenues. Cinemark has followed with a similar PVOD deal.
Now, Cineworld has taken similar steps with a deal for Warner Bros films. Cineworld, which owns Regal theatres in the USA, will be opening its doors stateside in April for the first time in six months, while in the UK and Ireland, it plans to open its 127 venues (including Picturehouse sites) from 17th May, in line with the current government roadmap dates for easing lockdown restrictions.
The new multi-year agreement will mean that Cineworld will play Godzilla vs Kong on 2nd April in its 536 Regal cinemas the USA and Mortal Kombat on 16th April – both big concessions for Cineworld, which has previously refused to play any films breaching traditional theatrical windows, as Warner Bros will be releasing all of its titles in the USA simultaneously in cinemas and on its streaming service HBO Max.
From 2022, Cineworld and Warner Bros have agreed that Warner films will have a 45-day theatrical window in the USA, down from the usual window of about 75 days.
In the UK, where HBO Max does not exist and Warner has used PVOD releases for such titles as Wonder Woman 1984 and Judas and the upcoming Godzilla vs Kong, Cineworld and Warner Bros have agreed a theatrical window of 31 days before a PVOD release – if a film meets an unspecified box office threshold, that window extends to 45 days. This is down from about a typical theatrical window of about 12 to 16 weeks.
Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said in a statement announcing the news: “With capacity restrictions expanding to 50 per cent or more across most US states, we will be able to operate profitably in our biggest markets. We will also be monitoring developments closely in the UK and across Europe as we set to gradually reopen across the world in line with local government guidance.”
“We are very happy for the agreement with Warner Bros,” Greidinger added. “This agreement shows the studio’s commitment to the theatrical business and we see this agreement as an important milestone in our 100-year relationship with Warner Bros.”
While Cineworld has not yet announced a deal with Universal and AMC and Cinemark have not yet announced a deal with Warner Bros, the announcements made so far as cinemas prepare to reopen in a dramatically altered entertainment landscape suggest that the industry is gradually beginning to shift its mindset and that premium VOD is becoming an established part of film distribution. None of the deals announced so far exclusively tie studios to any specific chain, but as details are hammered out and agreements signed, there could be a period where cinema operators do not show movies from specific distributors.