Since the advent of home entertainment, cinema chains have fought to keep a buffer between the moment a movie appears on the big screen and the date it appears on the small. The standard approach to releasing a major film therefore means a wide theatrical release of around 90 days before it’s available on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD.
Paramount, however, has announced that it’s going to close that gap with a couple of its forthcoming horror movies. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse are due out in American cinemas in October, but Paramount has hatched a deal with two major cinema chains – AMC Theatres and Cineplex Entertainment – that could see both films hit small screens before Christmas.
Under the deal, their theatrical window will be trimmed from the typical 90 days to a much lower figure. As their time in cinemas draws to a close – that is, the number of screens on which they’re shown drops below 300 – there’ll be a relatively short grace period of 17 days before they make their debut on small-screen venues like DVD and VOD.
To put this in perspective, consider the release of the last Paranormal Activity release, The Marked Ones.
Released in American cinemas on the 3rd January 2014, The Marked Ones opened wide in a total of 2,883 cinemas according to Box Office Mojo’s figures. The number of cinemas showing it tailed off to 150 over the next four weeks, until its theatrical run ended on the 20th February. There followed a gap of about six further weeks before the horror sequel got its DVD release on the 8th April.
If Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension performs similarly to The Marked Ones, the number of cinemas showing it will drop below 300 approximately one month after its 23 October release, meaning it could appear on VOD or DVD by the middle of December. Of course, if the horror sequel’s a greater success (which, with its promises of answered questions, it may well be), then its theatrical run will be longer, thus pushing a home release slightly further on.
The gap between theatrical and home release is something cinema chains have fought tooth and nail to retain in the past. As Deadline points out, Universal hit a bit of a protest storm when it tried to release Tower Heist on VOD three weeks after it appeared in cinemas – a tactic it was ultimately forced to abandon.
But the film business is always adapting to new forms of technology and changing public demand; this superbly detailed article is a reminder of just how greatly release windows have shrunk since the early days of home video. There was a time, for example, when the window between initial theatrical release and a video rental debut was as long as 12 months.
That window has steadily shrunk, and has continued to do so in the age of internet viewing. With online piracy now capable of majorly affecting revenues, TV and film studios are continuously looking at ways of boosting home entertainment profits without cannibalising revenues coming in from cinemas. Film4, to cite one example, took the pioneering step of screening Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England simultaneously in cinemas, on TV, disc and VOD.
Paramount’s deal with AMC and Cineplex aims to maximise profits without irking anxious cinema chains. The plan is that companies who sign up for the deal will continue to receive an undisclosed percentage of the movies’ digital profits even after they’ve left theatres.
It’s the kind of bargain that could get more cinema chains on side in the future, particularly if Paramount’s experiment with two relatively low-budget films proves to be a financial success. The sentiment expressed by the US cinema industry has, so far, sounded cautiously optimistic.
For AMC’s CEO Gerry Lopez, Paramount’s approach “aligns the interests of consumers, filmmakers and exhibitors to maximize the theatrical experience first and then enable legitimate digital access.”
“For several years we’ve been asking the studios, distributors to reach out and work with exhibitors on new models and ways to grow the pie, including home entertainment, while at the same time protecting the theatrical exclusive,” says Patrick Corcoran, vice president of the Nationa Association of Theater Owners. “As far as terms of this particular experiment, it’s going to be up to individual theater companies whether this works for them or not.”
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse could, therefore, see the gap between cinema and home releases narrow for many more films in years to come.
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