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Bob Bakish Says Paramount Remains Committed to Theatrical But Predicts ‘Windows Will Probably Shorten’

“Studios — including Paramount — are doing some things they wouldn’t normally do, because theaters are closed,” ViacomCBS boss says

ViacomCBS president and CEO Bob Bakish gave his forecast for what releasing Paramount movies will look like once the coronavirus pandemic subsides, predicting that “theatrical windows will probably shorten,” even as the studio stands by its commitment to the theatrical experience.

Bakish alluded to some of the radical new release strategies rival studios are taking in recent days, saying that these are moves they and Paramount wouldn’t make under normal circumstances.

“We really are in sort of a ‘COVID Rules’ phase of the business right now, where studios — including Paramount — are doing some things they wouldn’t normally do, because theaters are closed,” he said Thursday morning on ViacomCBS’ second-quarter earnings call. “We remain committed to theatrical and believe a lot of this reverts once the world normalizes.”

He continued: “But we do believe theatrical windows will probably shorten,” Bakish said, “And some of these new monetization paths … probably will become more competent.”

This week, Disney announced that one of its biggest summer tentpoles “Mulan” would skip a domestic, theatrical release and be made available for a premium video on demand purchase through Disney+ for $29.99, but that the movie would still open in theaters in countries where Disney+ wasn’t available yet. CEO Bob Chapek said the move would only be a “one-off” rather than a new strategy, but many fans wondered whether it would be a trial balloon for a similar approach on Marvel’s “Black Widow.”

Then there’s Universal’s deal with AMC in which they’re beginning to disrupt the traditional theatrical window, with Universal playing certain titles in AMC Theaters exclusively before they move to streaming after 17 days for premium video on demand. It’s a model that rival theater chains have pushed back on as they attempt to preserve the traditional 90-day theatrical window.

Paramount too has made some dramatic changes since the start of the pandemic, moving some titles that were either completed or in development to places like Netflix (“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “The Lovebirds”) and another partnership with Apple on Martin Scorsese’s next film “Killers of the Flower Moon,” while pulling the latest “Spongebob” movie from theatrical release this summer to debut on a revamped CBS All Access in 2021.

Bakish on the earnings call referred to Paramount Pictures as “an incredible asset,” citing its “powerful collection of IP” and “massive library.” And ViacomCBS also announced on the call on Thursday that it would be launching an international streaming service in early 2021.

Read all about the ViacomCBS Q2 2020 earnings here.