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Shots Fired At The Studios That Haven’t Supported Movie Theaters? Sony’s Execs Speak Out

Paul Rudd opening a ghost trap in a still from Ghostbusters.

The last year has been one of unprecedented challenges to the movie business. Theaters went dark for months, and many have still not reopened. Without the standard release model, many studios tried different distribution approaches including offering fans the option to rent new movies in their own homes. Warner Bros even put new movies on its streaming service as an incentive to drive sign-ups. Let the record show Sony is not a fan of those strategies, and its executives spelled it out in very specific terms yesterday at CinemaCon.

Speaking to an audience of mostly theater employees and some press, Sony’s executives were not shy about expressing their support for the big screen. In fact, they vowed to continue debuting all their movies exclusively in theaters and even took some shots at other studios who took a different approach. Here’s what exec Josh Greenstein said...

At the core of Sony’s movie strategy is a commitment to preserving, protecting the exclusive theatrical window. Debuting movies simultaneously in theaters and in the home is devastating to our collective business. Over the last 19 months there’s been a lot of doom and gloom. Without dismissing very real challenges, we at Sony take the long term view of the business. We’ve been here before when a new content experience emerges… but we know movie theaters and the theatrical experience will triumph.

There’s a lot going on in that quote, but I think the most important phrase is “collective business.” The clear implication there is that movie theaters and movie studios are in this together, and they need each other to succeed. During the pandemic, many other studios have taken the approach of trying to succeed outside the movie theaters. This has worked at times and been disappointing at times. In fact, most of the studios seem to be signaling they would like to return to the more classic distribution model when things return to normal. Warner Bros has already announced it will not put new release movies on HBO Max in 2022 until after the theatrical window as an example, but even so, no one has any clear idea when a return to normal will happen.

Josh Greenstein wasn’t the only Sony exec who made his feelings clear either. Chairman Tom Rothman also flew in for CinemaCon and was even more blunt in his assessment. He took many opportunities to praise exhibitors and the theatrical experience and then called out the performance of Free Guy. He mentioned how good the movie is but then pointed to the theaters only distribution strategy as a key reason why it has done such great business.

Free Guy has done great business, Number 1 because it’s terrific and Number 2, because you can’t watch it at home on television. Go fucking figure.

It’s hard to blame studios for trying to bring in some revenue during the pandemic. The entire industry was upended. It is very reasonable that executives would want to try new approaches, but Sony is making it clear it thinks the best thing for everyone involved is to get back to the so-called theatrical window in which fans must go to a theater to see the latest big budget films. It’ll be interesting to see whether other studios are as vociferous about it in the coming days. Fortunately for Sony, since executives made the decision to delay many of their films rather than change distribution strategies, there's a bunch of great stuff coming. Hopefully that patience pays off.

Mack Rawden

Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, the NBA and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.