Disney support crucial for cinemas as VOD debate rolls on

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It’s been more than a month now since the ‘war’ between Universal and the cinema industry began.

The success of Trolls World Tour as a video on-demand release saw Universal move to re-evaluate their business model – a decision that would deal a crushing blow to cinemas.

Exhibitors have been comfortable with their current theatrical window, but Universal are now said to be considering cutting that window to just a couple of weeks.

This would allow for new films to be made available quicker via video on-demand and streaming services – striving for the same success as Trolls World Tour.

Several cinemas have responded badly to the idea, with AMC and Regal cinemas both threatening to axe all Universal films from their schedules as a result.

The hostilities have not yet subsided, but with video on-demand services the current choice for audiences, the long-term future of cinema remains in doubt.

Since mid-March, the majority of Hollywood’s production line has been denied a theatrical release due to the closure of theatres and absent crowds brought upon by the coronavirus pandemic.

The majority of markets have yet to re-open, although many have seen Christopher Nolan’s Tenet on 17 July as the benchmark for opening their doors once again.

Disney’s postponed Mulan is scheduled to follow shortly after, with Wonder Woman 1984 among the highest profile releases hoping to be unveiled in August.

Yet while Universal’s potential plan remains a problematic one for the traditional theatrical release, Disney’s own stance is crucial to their own future.

Universal may have set their cards down on the table, but not every studio is on the same page.

Any decision to bypass the traditional theatrical window in favour of a greater presence elsewhere will not by a unanimous one.

Disney are fully committed to the blockbuster business, and are therefore, incredibly reliant on the additional revenues a theatrical release might bring.

This much was evident in their decision to hand their delayed films new release dates, instead of offering them out to their Disney+ subscribers.

The studio did sacrifice one title, May’s Artemis Fowl, but their remaining titles – including Black Widow, Soul and Jungle Cruise – are still due to open on the big-screen.

These Disney films need a healthy theatrical window to bring success for the studio, and that’s why they have been, and will continue to be, reluctant to cave to the VOD trend.

There are of course problems we can anticipate with cinema’s grand re-opening ready for mid-July.

The coronavirus, especially in the UK, has not yet subsided.

Audience numbers for the likes of Tenet and Mulan will be minimal, even with safety guidelines in place.

Persisting with these release dates amid drastically reduced viewer numbers means they are running the risk of a considerable financial hit.

That in turn could aid the case for VOD being the way forward.

Even if that were initially to be enforced as a short-term solution, you’d envisage that cinemas would find it hard to steal back a dominant share in the market beyond that.

The future for cinemas is bleak.

Disney’s support is vital at this moment in time – they are in control of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars and several of the industry’s other most lucrative properties.

But even their library of animated and superhero features is not enough to sustain the industry without additional aid.

Cinemas in particular need a steady stream of films from all genres and of all sizes, appealing to every audience available.

Beyond the coronavirus, the 90-day theatrical window is certain to be a thing of the past; and by the time Fast and Furious 9 comes around in a year’s time, it will be interesting to see just how different the cinematic landscape will be.

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