Paramount’s Theatrical Business “Incredibly Valuable” To ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish, But “Windows Will Probably Shorten”

Top Gun Maverick
"Top Gun: Maverick" Paramount

Adding to comments from media executives in recent days about the state of theatrical movie releases, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish defended Paramount Pictures but said windows will “probably shorten.”

Paramount “is an incredible asset for ViacomCBS,” Bakish told Wall Street analysts during the company’s second-quarter earnings call Thursday. “It has a powerful collection of IP, which we continue to develop for film, TV and streaming purposes.” Its library is also crucial to the company’s licensing strategy, he noted.

Movie theater closures during spring and summer limited Paramount to just $3 million in revenue for the quarter, an amount the company called “immaterial” in the earnings release. But Bakish said ViacomCBS is “benefiting from optionality,” citing the decision to shift The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run from a theatrical release to a premium video on demand window and then streaming via CBS All Access.

Some major releases, like A Quiet Place 2 and Top Gun: Maverick, have been pushed to 2021. Some others have been “monetized, yes, with streamers,” Bakish said — titles like Lovebirds, which went to Netflix.

But as to PVOD and windows more generally, a live topic with Disney’s Mulan and Universal’s game-changing windows deal with AMC, Bakish said the pandemic is altering the equation. “We really are in sort of a ‘COVID rules’ phase of the business right now,” Bakish said. “Studios, including Paramount, are doing things they wouldn’t normally do because theaters remain closed. We remain committed to theatrical and believe a lot of this reverts once the world normalizes. But we do believe theatrical windows will probably shorten and some of these new monetization paths, including strategic ones and others, probably will become more” common.

Bakish didn’t get specific in terms of how much windows will contract. The traditional theatrical window for theaters of 70 to 90 days has been under assault during the streaming era. Studios have brought in increasing revenue from early VOD releases, though before the pandemic could never break through with consistent PVOD releases due to push-back from theater circuits.

During COVID, many new releases have skipped theaters and become available exclusively on demand or via subscription streaming services, as was the case with Hamilton on Disney+. Mulan adds a new twist to the model, heading to Disney+ for a separate charge of $29.99 as well as theaters in territories where the film can open. The Universal-AMC agreement allows films to leave theatrical play after just 17 days, though both parties say plenty of longer-legged titles of recent vintage show that not every film will get such an early hook.

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