“I do think it’s inevitable over time that the windows get shorter in some way,” Gelfond said. “Around town, although people don’t talk about it a lot, there have been discussions going on. … At some point they’re going to reach an accommodation.”
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Colligan, who had a lengthy executive tenure at Paramount, gained additional insight while working as a consultant for streaming services before joining Imax in 2018. “We’ll see a change at some point,” she said. “Change is probably inevitable. All parties are trying to just figure out what the right change is. The belief that’s commonly held is that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.” Aside from Netflix, she continued, “there’s a much bigger industry that’s supported by ancillary revenue that supports pay television and other revenues. It’s not just about Netflix, it’s a bigger question than that.”
The pair spoke at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Communications & Entertainment Conference in LA.
Gelfond offered the caveat that there won’t likely be separate windows for studios and streamers. He noted Disney, as the dominant player in theatrical and also a company with robust theme park and merchandising operations, “thinks about things differently.” With its blockbuster films, he added, “it’s in their interest and to have longer time in theaters.”
Subscription moviegoing plans have had an increasing impact on the marketplace, Gelfond acknowledged. Over several decades of operating in dozens of countries, the company has already gotten acquainted with popular fixed-price plans in several territories.
In the U.S., Gelfond said, “most” subscription business will follow the “Regal/Cinemark model,” meaning a set monthly price covering only basic 2D movies, with extra charges applying to Imax or 3D showings. AMC, by contrast, granted access to all types of screenings with its Stubs A-List subscription program, but the company “did that largely because MoviePass came on the landscape,” Gelfond said. “I think it was largely a defensive move on their part.” For Imax, the exec said, the AMC approach has been a boost.
As for dynamic pricing, a long-debated scheme to help stabilize revenues and smooth out the hit/bomb variability of the movie business, Gelfond said it’s “complicated” in the U.S. due to industry politics. It would be hard to foresee studios and exhibitors, let alone other stakeholders like agents or IP owners, all agreeing on pricing, he said.
In China, though, Gelfond said, “dynamic pricing has been amazing.” When Imax showed Avengers: Endgame in China, “our ticket price was double and box office was double” that of Avengers: Infinity War. “In that ecosystem, it makes more money.”
And speaking of China, the Imax execs said the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China has not taken a toll.
“I couldn’t be more positive about that market,” Gelfond said. “Usually it’s 50-50 local content to Hollywood content, but this year Hollywood content is outperforming” despite escalating tariffs raising prices on everything from commodities to computer hardware to automobiles. “The Chinese have actually let in U.S. films much earlier this year than in previous years,” he said, noting that major titles like Endgame and Spider-Man: Far from Home opened earlier in China than in the U.S.. ‘Whatever’s gone on in the trade war hasn’t really bled into this sector.”