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We Want Our VOD: Survey Shows Wide Entertainment Industry Support for Shorter Theatrical Windows

A survey of 363 members of the entertainment industry suggests people want to spend less time in theaters and more time renting VODs.

A man with a mask walks past a Regal Cinema theater in the Union Square area of New York, USA, 09 May 2020. New York City remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the USA.Coronavirus in New York, USA - 09 May 2020

A closed Regal theater in New York City.

JASON SZENES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

A new survey of 363 people working across the film industry shows wide support for shortening — and to a lesser degree, even eliminating — the exclusive 90-day theatrical window.

Conducted by film data researcher Stephen Follows and in-theater advertising company Screendollars, the survey posed a number of questions about the future of exhibition that have been front-of-mind for many during the pandemic.

The survey polled a wide range of respondents including people working in development, production, and post-production (“filmmakers”); sales, distribution, and marketing executives; exhibitors; home entertainment, TV, and VOD; and an “other” group that included educators, government officials, festival organizers and journalists.

Among the groups surveyed, the filmmakers’ group was the least supportive of the pre-COVID-19 status quo. (Presumably, Follows didn’t speak to Christopher Nolan.) Results also suggest many segments of the industry are eager to continue pandemic-era experiments in distribution, while theater owners continue to hold on to traditional distribution methods.

A graph published on stephenfollows.com.

A graph of the survey results.

Stephen Follows

Among those surveyed, the filmmakers group had the most aggressive stance on breaking windows. Fewer than 15 percent think the theatrical window should return to its pre-lockdown length.

Only 30 percent of those in the filmmakers group believe windows should be longer than 60 days; another nearly 30 percent believe there should be no exclusive window. Over 80 percent of people working in sales and distribution think it should be shortened to some extent.

Exhibitors see it differently: Over half believe the window should be the same, or extended. That belief is shared by just over 20 percent of people working in TV and home entertainment.

While survey responses varied across stakeholder lines, there was wide support for Universal’s decision to skip a theatrical release for “Trolls World Tour” in favor of a PVOD.

More than any group, at just 14 percent filmmakers were least likely to label the strategy a misstep; that figure rose to nearly 20 percent among sales and distribution respondents, while over 40 percent of exhibitors thought it was a mistake.

In addition, half of filmmakers surveyed believe that studios should skip theatrical releases for their upcoming titles as standard practice. That could suggest that while they disagree with giving theaters iron-clad theatrical exclusivity, they want audiences to have the option to watch movies in cinemas.

When it comes to expectations of theater attendance post-lockdown, 58 percent of theater owners and operators believe things will return to normal within a few months. The least optimistic were those working in home entertainment: Two-thirds believe attendance will never return to pre-lockdown levels.

Among those in sales and distribution, and ones in the “other” category,” around 40 percent believe it will take a year or more and another approximately 10 percent believe it never will.

Exhibitors are also the most confident that they’ll will have renewed power to retain 90-day windows, with around 40 percent bullish on the prospect.

Meantime, the least optimistic group about exhibitors’ leverage are respondents working in sales and distribution, where almost 80 percent mildly or strongly disagree exhibitors will have that power.

The survey also reveals unity on some fronts. Respondents across all sectors are unified in their beliefs in which parts of the industry will improve, or suffer between January 2020 and January 2021.

They believe the outlook for physical and digital home entertainment, SVOD, and TV movies will improve during that time and that it will worsen for finance, production, sales, distribution, exhibition, markets, and festivals.

Respondents in all sectors also largely agree that cinemas will need to significantly adapt their business models. But there was more polarization on how exactly they need to change.

Half of exhibitors thought that flexible release windows should not be adopted, compared to just 13 percent of filmmakers. Sales and distribution respondents were relatively split on the question.

View the full results of the survey here.

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