Hollywood studio’s experiments with the release of new films on streaming services, at the same time as their film debut, were a hit among investors and dedicated film fans.
But there was also a downside. The strategy, known as ‘simultaneous release’, has led to the immediate availability of pristine pirated copies of films such as Disney’s Black widow and Warner Bros. Godzilla vs KongIt costs the studios millions of lost revenue per week.
Copying a movie from streaming platforms can take up to a few minutes or an hour at most, said pirate tracker founder TorrentFreak. Go under the pseudonym of Ernesto van der Sar, he refuses to name his name, because of the nature of his work. “That’s the problem with these simultaneous release strategies.”
Pirates tend to be higher for streaming, the studios admit, as most ‘4K’ use high definition standards – meaning the quality is extremely good.
For struggling cinema owners, however, the studios’ streaming piracy problems were a blessing in disguise. Incredible piracy helped them maintain their arguments for an exclusive theater “window,” which threatened to shut down the simultaneous release strategy.
Mark Zoradi, CEO of Cinemark Holdings, the third largest cinema chain in the US, said that fears of piracy had recently persuaded the studios to release at the same time – at least for now.
The National Association of Theater Owners, the lobbying group of American cinema owners, has criticized the aggressive promotion of the studios of their own streaming services – which includes Warner Bros.’s HBO Max, Disney + and ViacomCBS’s Paramount + – at the expense of the box office . But investors cheered as studios reported strong subscription numbers, even though the streaming services were not yet profitable.
Two of Disney’s Marvel movies have apparently helped preserve the theater window. After Black widow The Pyramid of Disney + is set to open in July, and the family entertainment group is trying out a more traditional version of its latest Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, this month.
The film had a strong showing at the box office, and although it was overwhelmed, the quality of the illegal copies – shot by hand with video cameras – is relatively poor.
Follow Shang-Chi’s successful release – it earned $ 196.5 million at the US box office and was the best film in North America for four weeks – Disney has announced that the rest of its films will have exclusive movies in theaters in 2021 before going to streaming go.
Other studios, including Warner Bros., have made similar commitments in 2022. Disney has not announced plans for next year.
Zoradi argued that the strong performance by Shang-Chi – and a reduced incidence of piracy with the release – influenced the studio’s decisions to allow an exclusive spin in the cinemas.
“If you watch movies that have not been released simultaneously, they tend to be less high on the pirate list than they were,” he told a news conference held by Goldman Sachs last week. “It was a very important factor in all the studios’ decisions.”
Disney did not respond to a request for comment.
Zoradi, who has worked at studio distribution at Disney for nearly three decades, said he has a ‘hope and expectation’ that Disney will commit to exclusive theater recordings next year. ‘I can not put words in Disney’s mouth, but it was a very positive sign [Disney chief executive] Bob Chapek has decided to take the rest of 2021 and put exclusive windows on it. ”
The group followed the most difficult approach to streaming between the Hollywood studios, as evidenced by a bitter legal dispute with Black widow star Scarlett johansson.
The A-list claims the group’s simultaneous release of Black widow violated her original contract and reduced the share price of Disney at her expense as her bonus was linked to box office sales. Disney said there is no merit at all.
But Disney + grew rapidly during the pandemic, reaching more than 115 million subscribers worldwide.
Chapek said at the conference last week that Disney would be flexible with windows in the future, with a few to 30 days – far from the 90 days that cinema operators have traditionally enjoyed.
The exclusion of the exclusive film window has been a goal of the studios for years. By preserving it, digital filmmaking will not put an end to movies, but it will likely delay the time that high-quality copies are available, Van der Sar said.
In the past, high quality pirated copies of movies did not start circulating until Blu-ray discs were released or made available upon request. “It is not clear that there is more piracy, it is just that the piracy is happening sooner than it was before,” he added.
Film owners, who have struggled to regain the audience amid the proliferation of the Covid-19 Delta variant, are celebrating the short-term commitments to retain their theatrical windows. But they probably also did not discover simultaneous release strategies, analysts said.
Studios are expected to make films exclusively for their streaming services, while Warner Bros. is planning films that go directly to HBO Max.
Chapek emphasizes “flexibility” in the way Disney movies will be released in the future, suggesting that further experiments lie ahead as it promotes the platform.
‘We love theater exhibitions – we’ve seen the power of them for decades – but at the same time we know our service [Disney+] is strategically the most important thing we do, ”he said.