Imax CEO Rich Gelfond Sees Movie Business And “Pure” Streamers Landing On Standard Theatrical Window In 45-Day Range

A group of people is seen exercising outside of an Imax theater in Melbourne, Australia. Icon Sportswire via AP Images

Imax CEO Rich Gelfond believes a growing consensus around the long-fraught topic of theatrical movie release windows will boost the recovery of exhibition in 2021 and beyond.

In addition to major studios endorsing exclusive windows of 30 to 45 days (half the historical period), either officially or by implication, the executive also believes streaming services will meet them halfway. Netflix, Apple, Amazon Prime Video and others will abide a standard window of about 45 days for their high-profile titles, Gelfond predicts.

The CEO weighed in during an online session at Morgan Stanley’s annual Technology, Media & Telecom conference. He issued a caveat, noting that Imax’s large-format locations generally play films only for runs of a week or two, meaning windows have never been a major sticking point for the company.

Nevertheless, “before the pandemic, there were all kinds of swirling stories,” with pundits predicting “‘there are going to be no windows, or short windows’ and I think that was an overhang on the industry,” Gelfond said. “The clarity is good.”

Many studios are owned by parent companies pushing aggressively into direct-to-consumer streaming and releasing major films online at the same time they hit theaters. But Gelfand expects the windows adjustments to also work in reverse. Tech companies, as they invest in mega-budget projects with top filmmakers and stars, will accept limited windows in exchange for the “stature” afforded by a theatrical engagement, he said.

“We’re going to see some of the pure streaming companies — the Apples, the Netflixes, the Amazons, they’re going to change their release patterns because the movies aren’t going to be 90 days like they used to be,” Gelfond said. “I think you’re going to start to see them put their movies on theatrical platforms, driven somewhat by talent, which wants to publicize it, and driven somewhat by economics.” With a theatrical release, “a movie gains much more stature. … the streamers will find that they can get some of that benefit with a theatrical release.”

A series of comments from executives in recent days support Gelfond’s read of the market, though in many cases they have kept their cards close to their vest in terms of strategy. But Gelfond envisions a more settled environment, which will combine with rising confidence among moviegoers emerging from Covid to boost the overall industry.

The ratings dive of last Sunday’s Golden Globes telecast on NBC was no one’s direct fault, Gelfond said, but it showed that “people weren’t really excited about stars or movies.” Streaming will never be “a venue to watch a blockbuster movie,” he asserted.

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