Video-On-Demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime & Hulu have become increasingly popular with movie and television watchers the world over, changing the way people consume their entertainment media. We even have a local alternative in the recently launched Vidi. They’ve had success in producing their own original series over recent years that rival those of the established television networks, however when it comes to new movie releases traditional cinemas have been mostly unchallenged.
But as Darryn told us Monday, the times they are a-changin’ as Netflix, The Weinstein Company & IMAX decided to shake things up by premiering Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend in IMAX theatres and on the streaming service… and it’s left most major North American and European IMAX theater chains very unhappy.
Traditionally streaming services only offer new major releases 90 days after theatrical releases and a major fuss was kicked up by theater operators when attempts were made to reduce this period to 60 days. Four of the largest US IMAX operators, AMC, Cinemark, Carmike & Regal, Canada’s largest operator Cineplex and Europe’s second largest Cineworld are currently all refusing to show the sequel in their theaters if it’s released the same day on Netflix; and they’ve expressed their disapproval in no uncertain terms to Variety and Deadline.
Regal spokesman Ross Nunley:
While a homevideo release may be simultaneously performing in certain IMAX locations, at Regal we will not participate in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to 3-inch wide on a smart phone. We believe the choice for truly enjoying a magnificent movie is clear.
Carmike spokesman Robert Rinderman:
We are committed to an exclusive theatrical release for the enjoyment of our valued guests. We are therefore opposed to showing day and date releases at our entertainment complexes.
Cinemark spokesman James Meredith:
Cinemark does not play day-and-date movie releases on any of our screens including the IMAX screens that we operate.
Cineplex spokesman Mike Langdon:
We continually invest in our theatres to ensure they provide the best movie-going experience possible, through ongoing upgrades such as stadium seating, digital projection, reserved seating, UltraAVX, 3D , Dolby Atmos sound systems and VIP Cinemas. We believe the theatrical window is an important component of the overall movie sales cycle. Playing movies ‘day and date’ with the release to home entertainment is not part of our strategy.
What you’ve described is precisely what separates you from home entertainment and what appeals to movie-goers who want that experience.
Cineworld have said, “We bring our customers the IMAX experience as the complete opposite of home entertainment, which can be found on all sorts of smaller, every-day screens like the TV or smartphones and devices. We believe that the theatrical experience and IMAX, as one of its cornerstones, should be kept apart from home entertainment”. It is apart, they’re markedly different.
And saving the best for last AMC, in a joint response with Chinese parent company Wanda, said, “We license just the technology from IMAX. Only AMC and Wanda decide what programming plays in our respective theatres”. And “no one has approached us to license this made-for-video sequel in the U.S. or China, so one must assume the screens IMAX committed are in science centers and aquariums.” OUCH! Clean up in the baby department, the toys have left the cot.
So to read between the lines they’re all concerned how a simultaneous release on Netflix will negatively affect their businesses as it could lead to fewer people coming to their theaters. Quite frankly I think they have a good point because it will, and because of two things: price and convenience. A Netflix subscription is cheaper than the price of admission and whatever you buy from oh-so-cheap concessions stands, not to mention the actual trip. So while I enjoy my jaunts to the cinema and experiencing a movie on a big screen with all the bells and whistles, sitting in the comfort of my own home with a good scotch, no one talking and no pants also has a certain appeal.
IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond (metaphorically depicted above) spoke further to Deadline about the negative reaction from the IMAX operators to the release announcement. With regards to plans to release more movies simultaneously on Netflix and in IMAX theaters if this initial release “works” he said, “we didn’t define what ‘works’ means. But we’ll all know if it worked or not.”
He also said that responses might have been different if IMAX insisted on their contractual rights to determine what releases are shown at certain venues but“we waived that in this circumstance because we felt it was such a novel approach that we only wanted to do it with exhibition partners who wanted to buy into it. We didn’t say, ‘we’re thinking of doing Crouching Tiger with Netflix.’ We did say, ‘we’re thinking of doing a project that’s a simultaneous release. How do you feel about it?’ And we got mixed feedback. …We weren’t surprised by Regal’s point of view. They were one of the people that told us they were more cautious about the approach.”
Gelfond belies that they should reconsider their approach to the release as it could be beneficial to the operators overall. “This movie is being released August 28 (2015). This year that was the worst box office weekend of the year, and Labor Day, the following weekend, isn’t much better. We would not have done this release if there were competitive Hollywood blockbusters at that time. In fact we helped to influence Netflix to release it at that time. The thought was, when you have a weak shoulder period, why not try something different? I just think the idea of a constant flow of good product, particularly in the shoulder period, whatever the source, is a good thing. But we’ll run a test and find out.”
This is an experiment, and one I hope is successful because in ten years time we could all have a choice of where and how we’d all like to watch the latest movies and that’s good for movie-goers, or should we be called movie-viewers then? Times change, and change is painful for established businesses that don’t evolve and what seems an instinctive knee-jerk NO! reaction from major cinema chains doesn’t help them in the long term because change will come, it’s inevitable. Streaming services have caused video rental stores to decline overseas, e-books and online sales have had a major impact on brick and mortar book stores.
I think Cineplex spokesman Mike Langdon said it best when explaining how IMAX theaters differentiate themselves from home entertainment, sometimes you really do want what they have to offer, and that’s what they need to appeal to, the movie going experience.
How do you feel about this? Am I speculating too much, is this the beginning of a new movie distribution method, no big deal, something that fizzles out, or something else?
Last Updated: October 2, 2014