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By Brent Lang, Variety
Warner Bros. addressed the elephant in the room during its presentation to theater owners at CinemaCon, which made for an uneasy few minutes on Wednesday afternoon.
Moments after worldwide marketing and distribution president Sue Kroll made a pitch for shortening the amount of time between a film’s theatrical debut and its premiere on home entertainment platforms, director Christopher Nolan all but shunned the idea.
“The only platform I’m interested in talking about is theatrical exhibition,” Nolan quipped.
Kroll, who worked with Nolan on all three Dark Knight movies, had stressed just moments prior that any changes must be made in concert with the exhibition community.
“Everyone in this room is facing a challenge, but also an opportunity,” said Kroll. “Consumer tastes are changing and that is changing the way we’re doing business.”
She noted that streaming services and new technologies are giving consumers “more choices for where and how they consume our content,” adding, “where there is demand somebody is going to step in and fill that void. We have to be innovative.”
Kroll’s comments came as six of the seven major studios are engaging in negotiations with major theater chains such as AMC and Regal on a deal that would provide movies on demand for rental from 10 to 45 days after they open. Universal, Fox, and Sony are among the Hollywood players pushing different scenarios. The plans differ, but rentals would cost anywhere between $30 and $50. In return, participating theater chains would get a percentage of the digital revenue.
“Together is the way to move toward a future that will be better and beneficial for all of us,” Kroll said.
Typically there is a 90-day period between a film’s premiere and its home entertainment launch. Some theater owners privately are concerned that if their window of exclusive access to movies shrinks, they could cannibalize their business. Their concern is people would skip multiplexes and wait until movies become available on demand.
CinemaCon has often been a place where these conversations and debates spill out in public, occasionally threatening to overshadow what is intended to be a lovefest between studios and exhibitors. In 2011, news broke that Warner Bros., Fox, Sony, and Universal were weighing a plan to release certain films on demand some 60 days after their release. The response from theater owners was swift and fiery, with filmmakers like Todd Phillips slamming the plan.
This go round, things appear to be more pacific. Warner Bros. has been one of the loudest advocates for shaking up the current film distribution ecosystem. In February, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara told analysts that talks were progressing.
“We’re aggressively working with exhibitors to talk about models that will grow the market instead of cannibalizing the market,” he said.
Tsujihara wasn’t at CinemaCon, because he was traveling in China. Kroll said she looked forward to continuing “productive conversations.” She also spoke lovingly of the role that movie theaters play in culture.
“The movie theater stands alone,” said Kroll. “It is and always will be the cathedral and the temple of this art form.”
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