While the major exhibitors and distributors are close to an agreement to shorten release windows from 120 to 90 days next year, the chances of a far more flexible regime for Australian and other independent films appear remote.
Despite calls for shorter windows from Australian producers, screen agencies and home entertainment retailers, there seems little prospect of a different regime for indie films.
The general view among distributors, at least the larger companies, is that there is no case for Australian or other non-majors films to be treated any differently.
“If a film does not pass muster at the box-office, we are all in the same boat,” one executive tells IF. Said another, “No one is suggesting a different structure for independent films.”
That’s not to say that some Oz producers won’t continue to book films into indie cinemas as a platform release followed rapidly by digital, as happened with Cut Snake, Kill Me Three Times and now Sucker.
But there appears to be no push at the top levels of distribution or exhibition for windows of fewer than 90 days. One argument is that Australia can’t take the lead in speeding up release patterns when the average window in the US is 90 days. If the Yanks ever adopt shorter windows across the board, we might follow.
Some home entertainment retailers have been advocating a window of 90 days for the B.O. hits that have sustained runs in cinemas, and 60 days for those titles that are rapidly yanked off screen.
Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason told IF earlier this week, “It is in everyone’s interest that the content is available as quickly as possible to the interested audience. The cinema experience is essential to the value chain in money and reputation but you have to balance that off with the need to get films to audiences as quickly as possible to serve the audience and to stop piracy.”
IF understands some exhibitors want an industry agreement on 90 days to run for a number of years, perhaps up to five, to give them certainty while they continue to invest millions in new screens and upgrades.
A set term is being resisted by distributors, who rightly ask: “Who can predict the theatrical and digital landscape in two years, let alone five?”
The 90-day window is likely to see more US films continue to bypass cinemas and go direct to digital. As one executive put it, “Why would I spend $1.5 million to open a film which grosses $3 million? That’s not good enough.”
The major chains have dropped their opposition to reducing the entrenched 120 day window after agreeing to 90-day releases for a limited number of US films in the past two years. These titles demonstrably did better on home entertainment with zero impact on their B.O. takings.
Among the 90-day releases this year were The Water Diviner, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Big Hero 6, Cinderella, Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road.
Some distributors have yet to sign deals under the new window for next year, so there is likely to be a staggered roll-out of the 90-day window.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens seems a likely candidate for a shortened window if it goes out on home entertainment at Easter, but Disney says it has yet to set the release date