When I was a child, movies seemed to play at the theatres forever. They basically stayed in the small, two or three screen cinemas until people stopped coming to see them. No multiplex with fifteen screens here. No staggered start times all day for the same movie. There were three or four screenings per day if you were lucky.
Show times were published in the back of the local newspaper. You queued outside with no allocated seating. When it was full, it was full. You waited for the next showing.
Only when people stopped coming did the managers of these local picture houses then book another screen. I vividly remember ET staying in the theatre for about sixteen weeks. That was more than a quarter of a year.
This being the days before a VCR in every home, you had to wait years until the movie was on television. Usually on a commercial channel with advertisement breaks every twenty minutes. Then the release windows system was first conceived in the early 1980’s, on the brink of the VHS home video market, as a strategy to keep different instances of a movie from competing with each other. Even then it was sometimes over a year before a movie made it’s way to home rental.
Today? The window is down to three months, with most movies marketed towards opening weekend grosses, then out of theatres by week eight. Well, that was before the dark times. Before the ‘rona.
Many have queued up to write the eulogy for theatres over the course of the pandemic. The Warner Bros. and HBO day-and-date strategy really did start something, as predicted.
Now Netflix have lined up to put the boot into picture houses. Well, of course, they would, wouldn’t they? However their message simply echoes what we have already heard from the CEO of Disney among others.
Greg Peters, the online streaming giant’s Chief Operating Officer, was speaking at a virtual conference organized by Morgan Stanley. He said not only will moviegoers no longer wait for home viewing, they will now demand it. He went on to say that the cinema industry was only delaying the inevitable by trying to preserve its traditional privilege of showing films first.
“Many of us at Netflix are huge fans of the theatrical experience; it’s an amazing experience. But… the way we think about it is it should be consumer choice.
“We’ve been supporting [simultaneous] release for a long time, [and] maybe shorter theatrical windows. So I would say we’re enthusiastic to see a shift in enabling more and more of that.
“It’s what consumers want. At the end of the day, it’s hard to buck that trend for too long, and I think that that’s eventually where things go.”
Christopher Nolan will not be happy about this.