Why The Current Movie Theater Model May Not Last Much Longer

Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel From 500 Days Of Summer

The debate surrounding theatrical exclusivity, and the "window" of time between when a movie screens in theaters and when it can be made available in our homes, is one that has raged for years in the film industry. The window has shrunk in recent years, and several distributors (of the indie variety) have engaged in groundbreaking experiments with day-and-date release patterns to get movies in front of more eyeballs... particularly, eyeballs that don't want to go to the movie theaters anymore, and prefer to watch films in the privacy of their own homes. The major theaters chains -- from Regal to AMC -- continue to balk (understandably), but major movie studios continue to float the notion that something has to be done to change the current model, with 20th Century Fox being the latest major to voice concern.

Fox CEO Stacey Snider was attending the Code Media conference in Laguna Beach, California on Tuesday night, and talked to THR about the need for movies to get to home video, in some format, sooner than it's happening right now. Snider said:

It's not about smashing the window. Maybe it's about opening it up a little. I don't think it's controversial to say that for a business to not be able to sell what it makes for periods of time is anachronistic.

This is the latest in a string of toe-dips into the water of pushback on behalf of the studios against the current system. The average theater-to-DVD window is four months, after hovering around six months for years. The more that studios lose revenues on the home video side, the more that they push to shrink that time period of when a hot movie leaves theaters, and the moment that a consumer can purchase it on home video, sometimes with additional content or a different home-video cut.

Stacey Snider's comments follow recent remarks by Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who suggested that his studio would be open to a Screening Room-type scenario where people paid more to have theatrical movies in their homes for a 48-hour period. He recently stated, via L.A. Business Journal:

We're aggressively working with exhibitors to talk about models that will grow the market instead of cannibalizing the market. ... It's about giving consumers what they want. If we don't give it to them, they're going to go to pirated versions.

Naturally, movie theater chains are against this. They make their money on audience members coming to the multiplex to see first-run films, particularly blockbusters like the upcoming Logan, or the powerhouses of the summer movie season, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or Transformers: The Last Knight. Even Stacey Snider of Fox admitted to THR that she wouldn't want to eliminate the unique theatrical experience altogether, saying:

The last thing we want to do is commoditize [a movie's release] and make it feel like it's interchangeable with the home entertainment experience.

However, as more studios -- major studios -- chime in, and smaller distributors partner with Netflix or fine-tune the Video On Demand system, it's going to get harder and harder to keep that "window" between a theatrical release and a home-video debut from being thrown wide open, to the seeming benefit of the consumer.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.