Two years ago, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos riled the industry in a Keynote address in which he criticized theater owners for their resistance to the idea of day-and-date releasing of films on Netflix — going so far as to say that theaters are going to “kill movies.” He later backtracked and said he “wasn’t calling for day and date with Netflix… I was calling to move all the windows up to get closer to what the consumer wants.”
Well, two years have passed since then and Sarandos’ wishes have come true — at least in the case of “Beasts of No Nation,” the well-reviewed Cary Fukunaga-directed drama, which hits theaters today at the same time that it is available on Netflix. The film is screening in 31 locations in the top 30 markets, but none run by the major theater chains.
At the same time that Netflix pushes the day-and-date envelope, Paramount is shrinking the theatrical window for its two upcoming horror titles: “Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension” and “Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.”
Last summer, AMC Theatres and Cineplex Entertainment agreed to shrink the window between the theatrical release and home entertainment debut of two of Paramount’s low-budget horror titles: “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” (October 23) and “Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” (October 30). In both cases, they agreed to shorten the traditional 90-day home entertainment debut window to just 17 days after the number of screens upon which the film is played drops below 300. In return, AMC and Cineplex, as well as other exhibitors, will receive a percentage of the studio’s digital revenue, including iTunes through 90 days, on top of theatrical earnings.
“Exhibitors want to keep their businesses strong,” Paramount chairman and CEO Brad Grey said at the time. “Filmmakers want us to put a premium on the theatrical experience and optimize consumer access to their creations.”
Major theater chains such as AMC, Regal, Carmike and Cinemark have all opted not to show “Beasts” since it breaks the traditional 90-day home entertainment debut window. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Regal and Cinemark are also boycotting “Paranormal Activity.”
Of course, theater owners are quaking in their boots, given that younger generations are more comfortable watching films on streaming platforms than showing up to theaters.
Earlier this year, Regal CEO Amy Miles told The Hollywood Reporter that “the parameters of the current proposal [from Paramount], both economic and structural, simply do not make sense for us given the potential risks to the long term health of our business. As has been the case historically, we will utilize our screens to exhibit films distributed using a traditional distribution model that respects the existing theatrical window.”
In an interview with Indiewire, “Paranormal Activity” producer Jason Blum explained the rationale behind the shortened window for the film. “Scary movies tend to open big and drop off fast,” he said. And I think it’s not in anyone’s interest to have a bunch of marketing out there for a product that the consumer legally can’t get their hands on.” He expressed less concern about the windowing situation. “It’s not about collapsing the windows, it’s about two weeks after the movie is in 300 screens or less, the movie comes out digitally,” he said. “So if the movie is not available to the consumer in a theater, there’s another way to get it besides an illegal way to get it. Which I think is a great thing.”
Fukunaga is clearly on the fence about having “Beasts” accessible day-and-date. “It’s a complicated question for me, because I have to walk the line between being very supportive of Netflix, because they’ve been so supportive of us and the film, but also fighting to keep cinema a sacred sort of experience and one that won’t be taken away in the future because of a lack of places to do it,” he recently told Indiewire. He even went so far as to say that he “would love for people to see this movie in cinema for as long as they can, if they can.”
Clearly, these new releases won’t settle the issue of theatrical windows, but for now, they’re pushing the envelope.