Whilst the pandemic may have forced audiences to switch their film viewing behaviour to online streaming services, the future of film distribution is very much rooted in cinemas, that's according, unsurprisingly, to the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) at CinemaCon 2021.
Day-and-date release, favoured by several of the major studios during the disruptive COVID-19 period, came in for particular criticism, with David Fithian, the NATO boss making his thoughts clear on the approach of simultaneously releasing movies on in-home premium streaming services and in movie theaters, a strategy that has been adopted by Disney and Warner Bros in particular, for their recent tent pole films "Black Widow" and "Wonder Woman 1984".
"...let us be clear about one thing: Simultaneous release does not work for anyone,” said Fithian, adding that the exclusive theatrical release window historically enjoyed by exhibitors was essential to the recovery of the film industry post-pandemic.
Major cinema chains could count on the support of Hollywood studio exec Josh Greenstein, President of the Motion Picture Group at Sony Pictures who, speaking at the same event, committed Sony to exclusively distributing its films on big screens first.
“Debuting movies simultaneously in theaters and in the home is devastating to our collective business” Greenstein said, "the theatrical movie experience will triumph”.
Whilst such a commitment from Greenstein, later reiterated by Sony boss Tom Rothman, might seem bold in the face of a continuing day-and-date release strategy employed by other majors in 2021 (Warner Bros, for example, still plans to simultaneously release big-budget movies such as Dune and the Matrix 4 for the remainder of the year), it's worth remembering that Sony does not have its own direct-to-consumer subscription platform. Without a Disney+ or HBO Max platform behind it, Sony has little to lose in being a vocal champion of the cinema.