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Hollywood Drives Off The Cliff

Things are more than confusing. AMC’s stock has risen to record levels (with really no rationale behind it). Its esteemed CEO decided to have an online interview not wearing pants. People are making it a big deal, frankly, I empathize in this Zoom-riddled culture of ours. There are many times during this season of a pandemic that I had early morning meetings sporting a nice shirt and pajama bottoms. There are many more important things to talk about other than the lack of pants on Mr. Aron.

Memorial Weekend the lights were turned on again, a chance was provided to exhibitors to see what could be.

While the box office is bouncing back, theater owners must embrace the simple fact that movie-going has changed. There are still deep issues and while Memorial Day did provide a shard of light in a dark tunnel, exhibitors should rejoice but more importantly, they should reflect and reflect deeply. For me what is fascinating is that it is becoming apparent that a chasm is opening between a windowed theatrical release and day and date play. The studios are being taught a lesson in that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Over the 4 day Memorial Day weekend, North America saw $100 million in ticket sales, easily the best performance since the premiere of COVID. Yes, this was less than half of the $232 million dragged in over Memorial weekend 2019. The weekend brought in a whopping (by Covid terms) $57 million for Paramount’s “A Quiet Place 2,” it was easily the highest-grossing movie to launch during the pandemic.

The success of a “Quiet Place 2” in the words of a JPMorgan analyst suggests’ “the demand for theatrical experiences has returned even as some movie theaters in the country continue to operate under certain restrictions,”. The previous pandemic title holder was that feel-good movie, Godzilla vs. Kong which did $48.5 million initial play in theaters.

This is why it starts to get interesting in my humble opinion. Disney’s “Cruella” took the number two spot with a $27 million box office. What is really fascinating is that this family-friendly Disney movie based on an almost fifty-year-old franchise should have easily cleaned “The Quiet Place’s” clock, but it didn’t. What happened is something that was due to the pandemic and the lack of inoculation of children, but also that “Cruella” was released at the same time on Disney+ Premier Access. Subscribers of Disney + for a measly 30 smackers can have access to “Cruella”. Unlike the “Mulan” remake and “Troll’s World Tour” I do not think it did well. Disney+ is experiencing stagnation; it does enjoy over 100 million subscribers worldwide, and Premier Access from a small part of that user base could account for a lot of Cruella’s box office drop-off. It should have done $90 million easily.

There is a real issue with streaming that is the menuing presentation is often problematic and never can truly show the number of movies being offered. On Disney+ you have Premier Access where you have to pay $30 bucks, movies that they claim are in theaters but are offered free and the body of movies and television shows which are offered free as a result of subscribers to the service.

These offerings are presented all together which can often be confusing. Consumer cross-compare values….Hmm, kids are bored, do I pay $30 bucks for “Cruella” or will this adorable “Madagascar Penguins'' do the trick. 3 minutes later Junior and the Suburban terrors are planted in front of the flat-screen watching chubby penguins doing ninja moves and loving it. Consumers see Mulan being offered free and figure hey if I can just wait 90 days I can save myself $30 clams. The days of early pandemic streaming euphoria are gone and gone forever. The biggest ally of early streaming success was the decision to keep the kids at home, insert the Shower Cue from Psycho.

(8) The Shower - Psycho (5/12) Movie CLIP (1960) HD - YouTube

Meanwhile, the Mandarins over at Disney are wringing their hands and asking themselves, maybe streaming is going to be real work. Maybe, just maybe we abandoned theatrical windows too hastily …….yep. Maybe just maybe theatrical windows increase streaming revenue…..yep again.

These movies appeal to two very different markets and are almost polar opposites of each other. A lot of analysts are blaming streaming for denying the potential for theatrical revenue for “Cruella” but I think it's deeper than that. The simple fact that the only way to become an event and not just be relegated to the sad world of commodities is by having an exclusive theatrical release. The concept that streaming access is a huge hit to traditional ticket sales may appear to be applicable on the surface, but I think if you look deeper and look at the evolving numbers it becomes apparent that day and date is a self-inflicted wound on the part of the studios. When I was selling VHS tapes to video rental stores, we often made the statement that putting a movie in the theater, any movie was the only way to provide deep and enduring value to the VHS market. I am making the case that the best way for streaming to succeed and develop an ongoing moviegoing ecosystem is to embrace theatrical windows.

Memorial Day Weekend should be a cause for celebration for the business of exhibition, people still want to go to see movies. It is a prayer of mine that this trend grows over the summer. Right now 72% of theaters are open. Exhibitors should be taking this time to get a footing and to reposition the business of exhibition in their favor. We need lots of movies, movies that appeal to many audiences. We have to rebuild audiences by abandoning the concept of National Play in favor of a more thoughtful regional play, primarily when it comes to independent movies.

We hopefully have learned the lesson, that placing our trust in Hollywood is not really a good idea. Motion picture exhibition must cease to be that cat's toy.