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NATO Chief: Movie Theaters and Streaming Services Can ‘Coexist’

CinemaCon 2019: John Fithian encourages partnership, but also says the theatrical window will be staunchly defended

NATO chief John Fithian assured movie theater execs in Las Vegas that streaming services like Netflix don’t have to be seen as a threat to their bottom line and that they can coexist.

While Fithian did not mention Netflix by name, he cited a 2017 Ernst & Young report that showed that moviegoers who frequently went to cinemas also spent more time on streaming services at home.

“For every race and age demographic, average streaming hours per week was higher for respondents who visited a movie theater nine times per year or more compared to those who visited a theater only once or twice,” Fithian said. “Streaming and theatrical don’t just co‐exist, they reinforce each other.”

That message of the partnership was shared by MPAA president Charles Rivkin, who addressed Netflix’s admittance to the MPAA a few months ago.

“We are all stronger advocates for creativity and the entertainment business when we are working together, all of us,” Rivkin said.

But that potential partnership is expected to be challenged as companies like Disney, Apple, and WarnerMedia launch their own streaming services this year while streaming titans like Netflix and Amazon continue to signal that they will challenge the theatrical release window that exhibitors have fought tooth and nail to defend.

While Fithian emphasized that streaming and movie theaters can grow together, it will not come at the cost of losing that window.

“All we ask is that powerful movies in all genres, made by content creators who want their work on the big screen, be given the time to reach their full potential in theaters before heading to the home,” he said to applause from the Las Vegas crowd.

“Theatrical exhibition is the keystone of this industry, and there is no replacement — both artistically and commercially — for the impact of a break‐out hit.”

Fithian also said that as streaming becomes a more and more viable option for filmmakers as a release platform, movie theaters should continue to be promoted as a place that can help those movies stand out. He pointed to last year’s cultural hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” and its director, Jon M. Chu, spoke at CinemaCon about why he chose theatrical release over a more lucrative streaming deal.

“We knew there was only one way to present our movie, and that was theatrically. This story would not have happened without the theatrical experience,” Chu said.

“A robust theatrical release provides a level of prestige to a movie that cannot be replicated,” Fithian added.

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