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Exhibitors Knew ‘Zola’ Would Have Early PVOD Release — Even Before the News Went Public

The new reality is that for now — and likely in the future — PVOD offers opportunities for specialized films just as it does for studios.

Riley Keough (left) stars as "Stefani" and Taylour Paige (right) stars as "Zola" in director Janicza Bravo's ZOLA, an A24 Films release. Cr. Anna Kooris / A24 Films

“Zola”

Courtesy of Anna Kooris / A24 Films

A24 has announced that “Zola” will add Premium VOD (at $19.99) availability on July 22. That’s after the stripper road trip comedy, which debuted at Sundance 2020, will have had 24 days (and three weekends) exclusively in theaters.

Though this has been made public for the first time (Variety reported it as an exclusive), this is not a surprise. Distributors nearly always alert theaters of their window-limiting plans before dating a film, and in the case of “Zola,” it was no exception. IndieWire confirmed with exhibitors in the initial days of the release that they were aware of the likely schedule, though A24 was unwilling to confirm on the record.

But even without that indication from the theaters, the wide release plan for the film — it opened in 1,468 theaters — made it clear that PVOD was always likely to start when it is. “Zola” is a film that pre-COVID would have almost certainly had a platform opening. Perhaps not the conventional two-city, four-theater approach, but more limited initially to build up word of mouth needed for an indie title with no well-known names attached.

Instead, the wide break earned the film two weeks in the Top Ten, and a gross so far of $3.5 million. But it has come with minimal response at most theaters. The per theater average for the initial weekend was $817. With so many theaters, the gross adds up, but so does the marketing expense, which the take on its own wouldn’t justify.

The film then had a 48 percent drop its second weekend, the second highest among holdovers in the Top Ten. But that isn’t the main reason for the wide break. What is relevant is that the additional attention the film has received should benefit the PVOD play.

And that is where A24 is likely to make most of its money. If “Zola” gets to $4 million, they might get less than 50 percent returned in film rental. But if they can reach one million PVOD rentals, their share (at 80 percent of $19.99) is $16 million. Even half that would double their likely haul from theaters. And going while the film is hot (even if somewhat artificially) increases the demand and interest.

It’s another example of how new platforms may end up being two things at once — a boon for specialized films, but a disaster for specialized theaters, who now see their core titles playing everywhere and soon available at home.

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