Skip to main content

Theater Org Head Honcho Accepts The Movie Release Landscape Has Changed, But Warns ‘Simultaneous Release’ Cannot Continue

La La Land at the movies.

This morning, NATO head honcho John Fithian took to the stage at CinemaCon 2021 to talk about the state of the industry right now, in a year rife with change and tumult. His speech today focused strongly on the future of theatergoing in an industry that was one of the most impacted by the events of 2020 and beyond. Along with recognizing the ever-changing landscape, Fithian also did not mince words when discussing some of the strategies of major studios during 2020. His warning?

Exclusive release periods remain vital to the the success of the theatrical experience. Theatrical windows won’t be what they were before, but they can’t be what they were during the pandemic either. What the future holds is up to our members and distributors to decide but let us be clear about one thing today: simultaneous release does. not. work. It doesn’t work for anyone. A steady stream of recent movies, released with exclusive windows is essential to exhibitions recovery and to the profitability of the entire movie ecosystem.

According to the President and CEO's speech, this doesn’t mean that things will go back to the way they were before the pandemic reared its ugly head, affecting Hollywood and the industry as a whole. He noted that we are “about to enter a great era of experimentation and that “this is an historic turning point” for the theater industry.

During the event, John Fithian gave a shoutout to Sony, not for that epic Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer, but for what was said in a speech last night, which included that studio supporting the theatrical experience rather than making content available on VOD or via a streaming platform, as others have done. To close, Fithian boldly predicted the future landscape for theatergoing, though we'll have to wait and see exactly what the future holds.

To make one thing crystal clear. The best work that is made is made for the big screen. I applaud artists who refuse to accept the false narrative that movie theaters are a thing of the past. And that the future will be one in which every movie is consumed at home. These leading creatives know better and they are on the right side of history.

In the past, NATO has been fairly blunt about some of the decision-making that Hollywood has made during the pandemic. He famously was the person to speak out when Universal ultimately decided to bypass the theater model and release Trolls World Tour on VOD during the early months of quarantine. John Fithian vowed at the time “exhibitors won’t forget this.”

Months later, other studios have followed similar paths set out by Universal in March of 2020. Disney+ has made certain movies available for a premium simultaneous to theatrical releases. Warner Bros. has given audiences the ability to watch new movie releases for free with an HBO Max subscription during the first month. Some movies that were originally set for theatrical release were later purchased or sent to varying streaming services. Theaters, including AMC and Cinemark shared their displeasure over the development at the time the news broke.

In the time sense, Warner Bros. will not be continuing the practice of releasing movies for free on HBO Max on the same day as a film’s theatrical release. The studio struck a deal with AMC just a couple of weeks ago that will grant a 45-day window of exclusivity for all 2022 movies. Warner Bros. has its own panel tonight, which should be interesting.

Jessica Rawden

Amazing Race & Top Chef superfan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.