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NBCU’s Jeff Shell Says Movie Theaters Will Be ‘More Than Fine’ Even With Collapsing Windows

NBCUniversal chief says he expects to see a ”Roaring Twenties effect“ post-pandemic with audiences returning to theaters

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell thinks movie theaters will be “more than fine in the long term” amid the shakeups to traditional release windows that are on the rise amid the pandemic.

“I think that theatrical will continue to thrive and I think that the more windows that can collapse so there’s other ways to see things at home and in less premium fashion, the more money is going to be made by everybody involved in the movie business and it’s better for consumers,” Shell said during a UBS conference Tuesday.

Regarding Universal’s premium-video-on-demand model, Shell explained, “we believe in the transactional nature of movies because we think that preserves the event nature, whether you’re going to a theater and paying for a theatrical experience or whether you’re paying for a movie at home, $19.99 to watch it, it makes it a little bit more premium than just turning on your TV and watching something somewhere.”

The NBCU boss knows that the recent decision made by AT&T’s WarnerMedia to roll out all of its 2021 theatrical titles in both theaters and on its streaming service HBO Max on the same day is “a different strategy,” but thinks “anything that, in my opinion, collapses windows… I think is going to add value to the whole business and I think theaters are going to be more than fine in the long term.”

Shell anticipates that when the coronavirus pandemic is over, there will be a bit of a “Roaring Twenties effect” that will get people out of their houses and back into theaters.

“The idea of sitting at home in your apartment on a Friday night watching Netflix is going to be less appealing than it was before this,” Shell said. “And I think people are going to want to leave their house, whether it’s to go to a sporting event, or a concert, or a restaurant, or hopefully a theme park — and certainly to the movie theaters. So I actually think movie theaters are going to be just fine and that’s where we want our movies to be seen. But it’s a good thing for the economics of the movie business to have another window at home where people can watch movies as well.”

Universal has a 17-day exclusive theatrical window with AMC and Cinemark in the U.S. before a film becomes available for premium-video-on-demand purchase, unless it makes $50 million in its opening. The studio experimented with skipping theaters earlier in the pandemic when it took “Trolls World Tour” straight to digital release in April.

Brian Welk contributed to this story.