“I would love to see every one of our movies released theatrically,” the motion picture group chairman said during Lionsgate’s quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts. Antebellum, which stars Janelle Monae and comes from the producers of Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us, has a timely storyline but its options dwindled given theater closures during COVID-19. It had already been pushed back four months and then pulled from the release calendar.
Priced at $19.99, the film can ideally play through the holidays and still generate the word of mouth and reach that horror hits can, Drake said. “With the extraordinary demand for content and the short supply, the economics look really strong,” the exec asserted.
Many studios have decided to pull the trigger on PVOD as they reckon with the pandemic. One benefit is that they keep a much higher share of revenue even if it is lower than regular box office would be thanks to not having a 50-50 split with theaters. Disney on Tuesday shifted Mulan to a $29.99 PVOD berth on Disney+ and Universal just reached a precedent-setting deal with AMC allowing films to shift from theaters to other windows after just 17 days. The latter agreement, which smashed the windows system honored for decades in the film business, followed Universal’s non-theatrical spring PVOD bow for Trolls World Tour.
Drake echoed windows comments from other media executives in recent days, saying that there will ideally be a greater degree of collaboration between theaters and distributors coming out of the pandemic. Historically, the parties have been like the Hatfields and the McCoys — only even more at odds. It’s instructive to realize that it was less than a year ago that Netflix and major exhibitors failed to reach terms on a compromised window for The Irishman because theaters would not budge. In the current climate, an exclusive window of just a few weeks suddenly seems like a more viable proposition for many titles, as long as the participation formula can be adjusted to everyone’s liking.
“We believe very much in the theatrical business. As that opens back up, we’ll be ready to exploit it aggressively,” Drake said. “And yet, what you have seen in this moment is new opportunities be created. I look at the environment and, while it’s a little tough because theaters aren’t open, we’ve got more optionality and interesting ways to exploit our content for the consumer and so I think that going forward we’ll be looking at all of those things.”
Asked by an analyst if talent will impose a default to theaters as opposed to more of a push toward PVOD, Drake said, “We feel like talent — we want it in theaters, too. We all would like that to happen.”
Ultimately, with so much uncertainty about theaters and audience demand, stakeholders in movies “end up having a lot more conversations than you maybe had to before,” Drake said. “But at the end of the day, creators want their stories to be seen and they want to have impact. So we’re all kind of in it together, dealing with the moment.”
As to the AMC-Universal deal, Drake said the company is still assessing it and having its own dialogue with exhibitors. But he painted a bright picture of the deal’s effect. “It treats all the parties as partners in the theatrical and PVOD space,” he said. “It’s trying to create a partnership model, where everybody wins. We like that.”