Resisting new release strategies

In Focus

During the past few months, the motion picture industry has witnessed several attempts to break away from traditional distribution strategies. The results to date have not been favorable. We’ve seen Sony’s The Walk and Universal’s Everest open on IMAX and Premium Large Format screens in an effort to bolster interest in those films. At best, give distribution credit for trying to find new ways to motivate the public to come see their movies.

Then there is Beasts of No Nation, which Netflix opened in only 31 theatres and released simultaneously on its streaming service. The results were terrible, mainly due to the leading U.S. circuits’ refusal to show the film. The movie did a poor $51,000 at the box office and Netflix has declined at press time to release numbers for its streamed views.

The most revolutionary studio strategy is Paramount’s partnership with AMC and Cineplex on the sixth Paranormal Activity and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. This experiment allows exhibitors a percentage of digital grosses in exchange for the studio being allowed to release the film on demand just 17 days after it leaves most theatres. For the first time, a studio is allowing exhibition a piece of the digital gross. This strategy is understandable for certain movies. But it also establishes a precedent and as such could spell disaster in the long run for exhibition; this is why the large majority of exhibitors are refusing to play these titles.

As long as the theatrical run turns out more money than any other release pattern, the three-month window will endure—and nearly all believe this is the best for the industry.

Truly a Phenomenon

The motion picture industry is gearing up for the most anticipated film in the history of the business. Considering the last decade has seen movies like Avatar, The Avengers, Jurassic World and The Hunger Games, it’s hard to imagine another film arousing attention and excitement that eclipses those films. The movie, of course, is Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens, which opens in theatres on Dec. 18.

People of all ages are eagerly awaiting this film and got their first glimpse of it during halftime on “Monday Night Football” a few weeks ago. The trailer was primed for 10:05 p.m. and by 9:45 p.m. Nielsen reported that the NFL coverage peaked. Sites like Fandango and experienced serious technical challenges to keep up with the demand for tickets. Both ticket sites are expecting record-breaking sales for the movie. The record-holder for domestic gross is Avatar with $760.5 million, and some industry pundits believe Star Wars could gross over $1 billion.

This editor never believed that Titanic’s original opening of about $1.5 billion worldwide would be beaten, and then Avatar passed $2 billion worldwide. So this is no easy trip for The Force Awakens, but all eyes and ears around the globe will be watching and listening for the box-office results.

As we went to press, we learned that Star Wars broke the record for the highest number of first-day pre-sale tickets on Fandango. The site has sold eight times as many tickets as it did on the first day for the previous record-holder, The Hunger Games, in 2012.

Congratulations to the Disney marketing team for their creative and innovative campaign that has made this film such a highly anticipated event.

The Growth of Premium Large Format

In this issue of Film Journal International, Charlotte Jones, principal analyst, cinema, at IHS Technology, offers a very informative article on Premium Large Format theatres. This is by far one of the most in-depth reports on this topic that we have published.

According to the report, the total digital premium large format (PLP) cinema market consisted of 1,623 screens worldwide at the end of 2014. This is an increase of nearly 15.8 percent from just six months earlier. This total includes both exhibitor-branded PLF screens and IMAX and other global technology brands.

The exhibitor-branded PLF screen was the fastest-growing segment, rising 22.3 percent in 2014 to 926 screens. Of the total 169 new PLF screens worldwide, the largest net gain was in the Asia/Pacific arena (78) and Western Europe (38).

China remains the second-largest market for PLF screens globally with a combined total of 124 screens—made up of Poly Film’s Polymax, Wanda X Land and China Film Giant Screen (known originally as DMAX). Other globally branded PLF screens include Dolby Cinema and Screen X Technology from CJ-CGV.

The article concludes that “cinema is moving towards an array of premium tiers and experiences based on a superior technology proposition, in combination with service, marketing and branding elements as well as improving the overall customer experience. Nonetheless, the superior attributes of PLF screens and the accompanying technology upgrades are increasingly seen by exhibitors as a primary driver of revenues. Investment in next-generation technology and experiences is seen as pivotal in regards to remaining both competitive and relevant in the wider entertainment mix.”