The world of film continues to be shaken up both at home and abroad. The only thing that’s clear is that streaming is here to stay and picking up steam.
Disney is just undertaking an entire reorganisation of its business to put streaming front and centre with content leading the way. The Mulan experiment as a Premium Video On Demand (PVOD) release possibly helped decide their future direction. Even with the need to subscribe to Disney+ just to get the ability to pay the premium price, punters made Mulan the fifth most-streamed SVOD title in the US in September, as tracked by measurement company Park7 Data.
Disney’s move follows WarnerMedia’s refocusing on content after the tepid response to the launch of HBO Max. Over at NBCUniversal, they too have reorganised along with the introduction of their streaming service Peacock.
So where does that leave the theatrical exhibitors?
Just two months ago, the world biggest theatrical exhibitor AMC and NBCUniversal paved the way for PVOD to become a Hollywood fixture when they overcame a bitter windowing disagreement to do a deal. Showing how quickly the old model is now becoming defunct primarily due to COVID, attendance numbers are nearly 85% down on what remains of AMC’s just under 500 theatres still open in America. Even worse, AMC predicts it will run out of cash to operate by the end of the year.
The second largest theatrical distributor on the planet, Britain’s Cineworld, has just announced it will shutter nearly 700 theatres in the UK and the US, threatening nearly 45,000 jobs. It doesn’t know when it will reopen them.
All of this comes amidst the moving feast of tentpole film releases. Christopher Nolan managed to convince Warners to put Tenet into theatres this year, but Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Bond film No Time to Die and Christopher McQuarie’s Mission Impossible 7 are just some of the films pushed back to 2021. All this does is put more pressure on the exhibitors.
Theatres are crying out for tentpole films to help generate revenue, even with social distancing measures in place. They just can’t get them. The situation is so dire directors James Cameron, Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen amongst others signed a letter to the US Government that said without additional support, 69% of small and mid-sized cinemas in the US would likely go bankrupt or close.
In New Zealand however, NZ films are having a bit of a dream run with no tent poles and not a lot else to compete against.
DEGNZ member director Sam Kelly’s Savage hit a million dollars at the box office, David White’s This Town has done just over $700k. Paul Murphy’s Low Down Dirty Criminals is still in theatres at Week 7. In the old normal it would likely be gone by now, pushed aside by new releases.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand Film Commission just extended for a further six months its COVID-19 Policy regarding its Terms of Trade. This means for films up to $2.5 million, you no longer need to have both a distributor and a sales agent. You only need one or the other. Or, in a major change, a recognised VOD platform can replace the sales agent or distributor.
Frankly, I believe the mandatory need to have any of them for films up to $2.5 million is an old and broken model. If you have a good script and package and they believe in the project, then a sales agent, distributor or platform will come in.
And if they don’t and you make a good film, you will just as likely find them when the film’s ready to show. The supposed financial commitment they make through a Minimum Guarantee (MG) can sometimes be a sham anyway, so why have it as a mandatory requirement for the finance plan? If you have a finished film and more than one sales agent or distributor wants it, it puts you in a stronger negotiating position.
Guaranteed distribution on the public broadcaster’s OnDemand service would deliver the potential for eyeballs with marketing the key to getting people to watch, guaranteeing a viewing avenue for the NZ public.
Theatrical exhibition then becomes the nice-to-have, not the must-have, while still offering the box office revenue opportunity. Window the theatrical first as is still being done and you protect the box office from pillaging by the OnDemand.
Over the Tasman, Screen Australia has already done away with the need for Australasian distribution. A positive amongst the carnage that’s been wrought there in film and television. The big ‘If’ there is whether or not the streamers will pick up the slack as the Australian Government hopes they will. Not levying streamers to produce local content in the expectation that they will take Aussie content anyway is a bet Australian production companies don’t like the odds of.
Meanwhile, here we sit, basking in the glow of the setting sun of the old film industry, hoping like hell that the Golden Age of television is going to save us.
We shall see.