Top Gun: Maverick has seen the re-emergence of Tom Cruise as a bona fide Hollywood star, bringing in the third largest opening weekend attendance (and largest for a non-Marvel movie) since theaters re-opened post-COVID—trailing only Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. The success has Paramount re-thinking their typical theatrical window before bringing it to their digital streaming platform, Paramount+.
Studios are faced with a balancing act as they attempt to optimize their theatrical earnings and drive subscriptions to their streaming platforms. A new de facto standard of 45 days has been adopted by the likes of Paramount (Paramount+) and Warner Bros. (HBO Max), but rules are made to be broken as studios exercise flexibility in setting the theatrical exclusivity windows on a case-by-case basis. Studios may alter these theatrical exclusivity windows based on a number of factors—including box office performance. It is common for high performing films, such as Top Gun: Maverick, to have a longer window before going to streaming.
“There are certain movies that are really made for the theatrical experience. Top Gun is a great example of that,” said Paramount CFO Naveen Chopra at a MoffettNathanson investor conference in May. “You should see that movie in a theater, and it will stay in the theater for a longer period of time.”
Theatrical windows may also vary by country. Disney is in a spat with France over their mandated 17-month window before a movie can go to streaming. As a result, they have pulled the upcoming November release of their new animated feature Strange Worlds from French theaters in favor of a Day One release on their streaming platform, Disney+.
Secondary windows also need to be managed carefully. Lionsgate Films recently reached an agreement with Roku for exclusive streaming rights after a film’s theatrical run and first digital streaming window on Lionsgate’s premium channel, Starz, are concluded. The agreement means Roku Channel will be the first place viewers can stream Lionsgate’s theatrical slate, including Borderlands and John Wick: Chapter 4, for free.
Interpret’s VideoWatch data shows that people are beginning to return to theaters – but still not to the same level as before COVID. At the same time, the popularity of streaming new-release movies at home – either through rentals, digital purchases, or subscription streaming services – continues to climb. It is unlikely that consumers will stop watching new release films at home, and instead will reserve going to theaters for blockbuster films that are enhanced by the theatrical experience. Studios will need to balance the time in theater for each film versus attracting new subscribers to their premium networks or subscription streaming services (and retaining existing subscribers with a consistent flow of new content).
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