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Exhibitors Sweat as Audiences Warm to the Studios’ VOD Experiment

Even without the details that box-office reports provide, it's clear that the public is warming to watching first-run movies at home.

“Birds of Prey”

Warner Bros.

There’s no box office to report. Instead, we’re watching theaters furlough workers as the $2 trillion federal relief package gives hope that someday they can be rehired. American studios exercised optimism as they moved theatrical release dates, while China stepped back from its own exuberance and closed theaters just five days after reopening.

President Trump has retreated from his claim that the country could return to something like normal by Easter, and extended social distancing recommendations through the end of April. With cases and deaths very much on the rise, it seems reasonable to believe that social distancing will continue until those numbers are in real decline. So while Warner Bros. switched the highly anticipated “Wonder Woman 1984” from June 5 to August 14, it remains to be seen if that will represent foresight or wishful thinking. (Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” still claims July 17).

China opened around 500 theaters in remote provinces March 23, and reports treated it as a positive harbinger. On March 28, they all closed again. It was a bit overblown: The reopened theaters played older films, which didn’t generate a lot of interest. While the government’s newest closure came without explanation, the reversal may also reflect a simple lesson of supply and demand: Even in a top-down controlled system, the public won’t return to theaters until there are new movies.

Meanwhile, specialized distributors are partnering with arthouse theaters to present recent titles in “virtual screening rooms.” Kino Lorber led with the Brazilian “Bacurau;” Ken Loach’s “Sorry We Missed You” (Zeitgeist) and “Vitalina Varela” (Grasshopper) joined in. However, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus), which had only two days’ play in two cities before theaters closed, will go to premium VOD April 3. Among top early-year titles, A24’s “First Cow” so far seems a rare holdout in hoping for theatrical resumption.

A handful of theaters, mostly drive-ins, remain open. There’s also few small-town, independent indoor theaters screening movies, as government shelter orders permit — but almost everything they have on offer is also viewable at home.

That’s the backdrop for our main event, a recap of what we can tell about home viewing. Here are the current listings from top VOD and streaming sites:

George MacKay as Schofield in "1917," the new epic from Oscar®-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes.

“1917”

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

iTunes and Amazon titles are listed by their rank on Sunday, followed by their highest rank in past week and the lowest available price to view.

iTunes Downloads and Rentals

1 (1) 1917 (Universal) – $5.99

2 (1) Onward (Disney) – $19.99

3 (2) Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) – $5.99

4 (4) Call of the Wild (Disney) – $14.99

5 (2) Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.) – $19.99

6 (5) The Gentlemen (STX) – $14.99

7 (6) Bombshell (Lionsgate) –  $3.99

8 (5) Knives Out (Lionsgate) – $5.99

9 (3) Bloodshot (Sony) – $19.99

10 (7) Dolittle (Universal) – $19.99

“Bloodshot”

SPE/Columbia Pictures

Amazon

1 (1) Bloodshot (Sony) – $19.99

2 (1) Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) – $5.99

3 (2) Knives Out (Lionsgate) – $5.99

4 (3) The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox) – $3.99

5 (5) The Gentlemen (STX) – $14.99

6 (6) Uncut Gems (A24) – $2.99

7 (3) Bombshell (Lionsgate) –  $5.99

8 (5) Midway (Lionsgate) – $5.99

9 (7) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) – $24.99

10 (10) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony) – $4.99

Jumanji: The Next Level

Updated weekly, Spectrum rankings include the previous rating from last week.

Spectrum Cable Top Video Rentals 

1 (4) Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) – $6.99

2 (-) 1917 (Universal) – $6.99

3 (-) The Invisible Man (Universal) – $19.99

4 (2) Frozen 2 (Disney) – $6.99

5 (3) Knives Out (Lionsgate) – $5.99

6 (1) Bombshell (Lionsgate) –  $6.99

7  (-) Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.) – $6.99

8 (5) Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox) – $6.99

9 (-) The Hunt (Universal) – $19.99

10 (-) Human Capital (Vertical Entertainment) – $6.99

Tiger King Netflix

“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”

Netflix

Netflix rankings include films and series, with the ranking followed by the title’s highest position in the last seven days.

Netflix Most Viewed 

1 (1) Tiger King  (original documentary limited series)

2 (2) Ozark (original episodic dramatic series)

3 (2) All American (original episodic dramatic series)

4 (4) Uncorked (original feature film)

5 (4) The Platform (original Spanish feature film)

6 (6) Blood Father (2016 Mel Gibson theatrical feature film)

7 (2) Self Made (original dramatic limited series)

8 (4) Love Is Blind (original reality episodic series)

9 (9) Badland (2019 original theatrical feature film)

10 (10) Car Masters: Rust to Riches (original reality episodic series)

Some takeaways:

Studios are adapting. They face losses, but unlike theaters they maintain cash flow. Their ability to adjust has been impressive — and from exhibition’s point of view, frightening.

Premium VOD is taking off. In part that’s because more titles are available, with more to come this week. Of the 30 places in these three VOD charts, 10 are premiums. Last Sunday, it was 4.

People still want value. “1917” rose this week after the end of its 90-day window, followed by its transition to standard pricing.

Dynamic pricing. Early indications are varying the premium price works. The modestly performing “The Gentlemen” ranks with higher-profile titles at $5 less. Ditto “Call of the Wild.” At $9.99, Searchlight dud “Downhill” is #17 on iTunes.

Data rules. Polls may claim that anything more than $6.99 is a hard sell, but actual-sales data will dictate what the public will pay. Preference doesn’t equal behavior.

VOD rankings aren’t the same as box-office reports. We lack comparable data and chart numbers can change quickly, which is why we listed today’s top 10 with their highest placements. And these three VOD audiences seem to be different demographically, and may not all immediately reflect their orders.

VOD doesn’t favor independents. “Human Capital,” which placed on Spectrum, is a crime drama starring Liev Schreiber and Maya Hawke that premiered at Toronto last fall; Vertical Entertainment had planned for a March 20 theatrical release with VOD via DirectTV Cinema. Among the new independent films, “Vivarium,” a horror comedy with Jesse Eisenberg that premiered in Cannes’ Critics Week last May, is #26 on iTunes.

Netflix is still the Wild West. “Tiger King” is a sensation and was #1 every day this week. A strange quartet of feature films — double the number last weeks — placed, led by the streamer’s original Memphis family BBQ restaurant drama “Uncorked” and the Spanish-made (and language)”The Platform.” Mel Gibson’s little-remembered Lionsgate Premiere title “Blood Father” clicked, as well as “Badland,” a western that Cinedigm released last fall. Imagine what might have happened if the timing were different, and Netflix’s major group of awards contenders debuted under these circumstances.

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