Theater Owners CEO Declares Day-and-Date Is ‘Dead’ in CinemaCon Speech

CinemaCon 2022: John Fithian defended the importance of theatrical windows — even in shortened form — to film industry success

John Fithian CinemaCon
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After a year in which several studios attempted to release films day-and-date on streaming and in theaters, National Association of Theater Owners President/CEO John Fithian declared that “simultaneous release is dead” during his opening speech at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

“Robust theatrical windows protect against piracy. If a major title that people are clamoring to see in theaters is released too quickly to the home and then pirated, the temptation to stay home and watch pirated films becomes greater for many potential moviegoers,” Fithian said to applause from theater owners in attendance.

“With the help of the global authority on digital piracy, MUSO, we closely track piracy levels. When analyzing title after title it becomes very clear that spikes in piracy are most drastic when a movie is first available to watch in the home: it doesn’t matter if its available via premium video on demand or subscription video on demand,” he continued. “I am pleased to announce that simultaneous release is dead as a serious business model, and piracy is what killed it.”

Last year, amidst unprecedented uncertainty surrounding the movie theater industry with the COVID-19 pandemic still running rampant and vaccine campaigns ongoing, many studios turned to day-and-date models as a way to hedge their bets on a moviegoing populace uncertain on returning to theaters.

Warner Bros. got the most headlines — and industry heat — by releasing all of its 2021 films simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters, but other studios also made attempts. Disney released “Black Widow” and “Jungle Cruise” in theaters and at a premium price on Disney+, while Universal released “Halloween Kills,” “Boss Baby: Family Business” and “Marry Me” as day-and-date titles on Peacock.

As Fithian stated, such experiments have been put away as studios are moving forward with plans to develop films either specifically for theatrical release or as streaming exclusives. Fithian expressed confidence that despite the push by many studios to build up their catalogs of exclusive content for their streaming services, their commitment to theaters will not be diminished.

“The renewed commitment of our studio partners to exhibition is on full display this week,” he said. “I am grateful that a strong number of top studio executives are here this week and believe their presence at this historic convention signals a renewed commitment to the important role that moviegoing plays in the industry ecosystem.”

But that doesn’t mean that the pandemic hasn’t brought long-term changes to the theatrical business, most notably the demise of the 90-day theatrical exclusive window as an industry-wide practice. While Sony’s record-breaking “Spider-Man: No Way Home” adhered to this window amidst immense demand, many studios have now settled around 45 days as the length of the theatrical window for most of their films, with Universal going further in its deals with major movie chains to release films on-demand as early as 17 days after release.

Despite this change, Fithian asserted that windows are key to the long-term success of films and the industry as a whole.

“Exhibitors and distributors are continuing to work together to create evolving periods of theatrical exclusivity that maximize movies’ theatrical revenue and increase the perceived value to consumers when they go to exclusive home streaming,” he said. “Even as they evolve, it remains the case that theatrical windows grow our entire industry.”

Fithian’s optimism was echoed by Motion Picture Association Chairman Charles Rivkin, who praised theater owners for their resilience during the pandemic both during and after the closure of their cinemas.

“As Bob Marley once said: ‘You never know how strong you are, until being strong – is your only choice.’ Well, we’ve always recognized that maxim, and we have rediscovered that strength in ourselves – every single time,” Rivkin said.

“Through cultural revolutions, paradigm shifts in technology, disruptions of entire industries, changes in consumer tastes and behavior, and seismic changes in business, and in distribution models,” he continued. “And every time throughout our history, our industry evolved, and – we grew stronger.”