Streaming piracy helps cinemas create arguments for exclusive theatrical “windows”

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The experiments of the Hollywood studios to release new films on streaming services at the same time as their cinema debuts were a hit with investors and caged film fanatics.

But there was also a downside. The strategy known as “simultaneous release” has resulted in the almost instantaneous availability of pristine, pirated films like Disney’s Black widow and Warner Bros. Godzilla versus Kongcosting the studios millions in lost revenue every week.

Copying a movie from streaming platforms can “take a few minutes or an hour at the most,” said the founder of piracy tracker TorrentFreak. Under the pseudonym Ernesto van der Sar, he declined to be mentioned due to the nature of his work. “That’s the problem with these simultaneous release strategies.”

Piracy tends to be higher when streaming, the studios admit, as most use “4K” high definition standards – meaning the quality is extremely good.

For troubled movie theater owners, however, the studios’ streaming piracy problems have been a boon. The rampant piracy has helped them push through their argument for maintaining an exclusive cinema “window” that the simultaneous release strategy threatened to close.

Mark Zoradi, CEO of Cinemark Holdings, the third-largest cinema chain in the US, said fears of piracy recently convinced studios to withdraw concurrent release – at least for the time being.

The National Association of Theater Owners, the lobbying group for U.S. cinema owners, has what it believes is aggressive promotion of its proprietary streaming services by the studios – which includes Warner Bros’ HBO Max, Disney +, and ViacomCBS’s Paramount + – at the box office’s expense. But investors have cheered when studios report strong subscription numbers, even if the streaming services are not yet profitable.

Two of Disney’s Marvel films appear to have helped preserve the cinema window. To Black widow Copied by Disney + when it opened in July, the family entertainment group sought a more traditional release for their latest Marvel film. Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, this month.

The film made a strong box office appearance, and although it was pirated, the quality of the illicit copies – hand-shot on camcorders – is relatively poor.

episode Shang-Chis successful release – it grossed $ 196.5 million at the US box office and was the top film in North America for four weeks – Disney announced that the rest of its film releases would be exclusively in theaters in 2021 before moving on to the Streaming passed over.

Other studios, including Warner Bros., have made similar commitments through 2022. Disney hasn’t announced any plans for the next year.

Zoradi argued that the strong performance of Shang-Chi – and a reduced case of piracy with this release – had influenced the studios’ decisions to allow an exclusive run in theaters.

“When you see movies that weren’t released at the same time, they tend to be less high on the pirated list than those that did,” he said at a Goldman Sachs media conference last week. “That was a really important one Factor in all of the studio’s decisions. “

Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

Zoradi, who worked in studio sales at Disney for nearly three decades, said he had a “hope and expectation” that Disney would commit to exclusive theatrical shows next year. “I can’t put words in Disney’s mouth, but it was a very positive sign that [Disney chief executive] Bob Chapek decided to take the rest of 2021 and put exclusive windows on it. ”

The group has taken the toughest approach to streaming between Hollywood studios, like having a bitter legal battle with Black widow Star Scarlett Johansson.

The A-Lister claims the simultaneous publication of Black widow Violated her original contract and juiced Disney’s stock price at her expense as her bonus was tied to the box office sales. Disney said there was “no merit at all” for submission.

Disney is in litigation with actress Scarlett Johansson over the decision to stream Black Widow on the same day as the movie release © Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios

But Disney + grew rapidly during the pandemic, reaching more than 115 million subscribers worldwide.

Chapek said at the conference last week that Disney would be flexible with release windows in the future, with some as short as 30 days – a far cry from the 90 days that movie theater operators have traditionally enjoyed.

Narrowing the exclusive cinema window has been a goal of the studios for years. Preserving them won’t end digital piracy of films, but it will likely delay the time until high-quality copies are available, argued Van der Sar.

In the past, high-quality pirated films only began to circulate when Blu-ray discs were released or became available on-demand. “It’s not clear that there is more piracy, it’s just that piracy happens earlier than it used to,” he added.

Movie theater owners who struggled to win back audiences this year due to the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 are celebrating the short-term commitments to preserve their movie theater windows. But they probably haven’t seen simultaneous release strategies either, analysts said.

The studios are expected to shoot some films exclusively for their streaming services, with Warner Bros planning some films going direct to HBO Max.

Chapek stressed “flexibility” in future Disney movie releases and suggested further experimentation to promote his platform.

“We love theater shows – we’ve seen the power of it for decades – but at the same time we know our service [Disney+] is strategically the most important thing we do, ”he said.


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