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Shorter theatrical windows don’t impact theatergoers. Costs do!nScreenMedia

The exclusive theatrical window is half what it was pre-COVID, but the shortened wait for PVOD does not affect whether people go to the theater. However, costs have a big impact, much more than health risks.

No standard for the theater window, though the average is much shorter

Before COVID re-wrote the book on movie windows, the minimum wait for a movie in theaters to show up for rental or purchase online (aka premium VOD or PVOD) was 70 days. Of course, all that went out the window (excuse the pun) during the pandemic. Day-and-date releases were common, with some direct-to-PVOD releases.

On the backside of lockdowns, I suggested that, though the industry would return to theatrical-first releases, long theatrical windows would not return. It looks like I was only partially right. According to research by IndieWire, the average theatrical exclusive window for all 34 wide-release studio films over a recent six-month period was around 35 days. However, the windows for specific films were all over the place. Avatar: The Way of Water remained in theaters exclusively for 100 days, while Halloween Ends opened in theaters on the same day it appeared in Peacock. Most studios appear to be dictating how long theater exclusivity will last on a movie-by-movie basis.

Indiewire’s conclusion from its research is that the theatrical window and the dynamics of the studio-theater relationship are forever changed:

“The 75-day window is dead; for that matter, so is the idea that exhibitors can dictate its terms to studios.”

Theatergoers don’t care about the PVOD window

Are the shortened theatrical windows hurting theatergoers, causing them to stay away and await the PVOD release? Not according to a new report, The Symbiotic Future of Theatrical & Streaming, from UTA IQ. Based on a January survey of 2,000 US 15 to 69-year-olds, the report found that two-thirds of Americans say the length of the exclusive theater window has no impact on their decision to see a movie in theaters.

The report also found that most online viewers couldn’t remember if a movie they had streamed was a digital original or originally a theatrical release. Only a quarter of the survey group could correctly name the most recent streaming original movie they had watched. The rest either incorrectly named a movie originally released in theaters or couldn’t remember the most recent title at all (count me in this category!)

Given a choice, most prefer to watch home

Where US adults prefer to see moviesThe length of the theatrical window might not matter to most people, but they still prefer to watch at home if given a choice. A March 2023 study from Publishers Clearing House (PCH) and Evan Shapiro found that 32% prefer watching movies in theaters. The rest preferred to watch at home, with 45% opting for streaming (either free or paid.)

Remarkably, the proportion of people preferring the theater hardly changed between younger and older Americans. 33% of 18-44-year-olds and 31% of over-44-year-olds preferred the theater. However, how they preferred to watch at home divided sharply by age, with younger people much preferring streaming over traditional TV.

Biggest deterrent to going to the moviesHave people’s attitudes to the theaters returned to pre-COVID levels? There is good and bad news for the industry in the PCH data. A slight majority say they went to the movie theaters more pre-pandemic. However, health risks are no longer the overriding concern about going. 68% cited cost as the biggest negative about going, 42% said traveling to the theater, and 41% said health risks.

The bottom line

There is no standard theatrical window anymore, but the average length is half pre-COVID levels.

Theatergoers do not consider the time a movie is exclusively in theaters when deciding whether to go.

Less than a third of people prefer to see movies in a theater and are much more concerned about cost than the risk to their health.

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