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Sony Vows to Protect Theatrical Exclusivity: ‘It’s the Window, Stupid!’

CinemaCon 2021: Simultaneous streaming/theatrical releases are ”devastating to our collective businesses,“ studio president Josh Greenstein says

While Sony was light on talent at its CinemaCon presentation, its executives got thunderous applause for passionately defending theatrical exclusivity at a time when other studios have released films day-and-date on streaming.

“Debuting movies simultaneously in theaters and at home is devastating to our collective businesses,” Sony Motion Picture Group President Josh Greenstein told the attendees at Caesar’s Palace. “Our movies will be seen exclusive first in our movie theaters,” said Greenstein. “Movie theaters and the theatrical movie experience will triumph.”

Sony’s presentation consisted of a brief sizzle reel and the premiere of the first trailer for Marvel Studios’ “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which had a low-resolution leak on Sunday. Sony Pictures CEO Tony Vinciquerra then presented the first public screening of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” with an in-person introduction from director Jason Reitman and his father, original “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman.

But the biggest applause was for the Sony execs, including Sony chairman Tom Rothman who used the box office success of “Free Guy” as proof that theatrical exclusivity is key to the long-term health of both studios and theaters.

“That film has done great business because, number one, it’s terrific; and number two, you can’t watch it at home on television! Go f***ing figure!” exclaimed Rothman.  “You remember Bill Clinton and ‘It’s the economy, stupid?’ It’s the window, stupid!”

Of course, a major reason why Sony is so committed to theatrical exclusivity is because unlike Disney, Warner Bros., Universal and Paramount, it does not have its own streaming service and thus a need to boost subscriber numbers. At a time when COVID-19 has made some moviegoers more reluctant to return to theaters, other studios have released films like “The Suicide Squad” and “Jungle Cruise” day-and-date on streaming — either at no extra charge or at premium prices — to find profit from audiences who aren’t ready to see films in theaters again.

And Sony hasn’t completely removed itself from the pull of streaming amidst pandemic uncertainty. Last week, reports surfaced that the studio was in talks with Amazon to move “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” from a theatrical release to a release on Amazon Prime. Animated family films have been a hard sell as many parents have been reluctant to take their kids to theaters or even send them back to school.

As a result, many animated films like “The Boss Baby: Family Business” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy” have released day-and-date on streaming and in theaters. Meanwhile, Paramount has pulled “Clifford the Big Red Dog” from theatrical release with no new release date yet set, while MGM has announced that “Addams Family 2” will be released in October day-and-date in theaters and for digital rental.