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Distribution / Releases / Exhibitors - UK

Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming

Cineworld and Warner Bros cut a new deal on the theatrical window in the UK

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Cineworld cinemas are due to reopen in the UK on 17 May with a day-and-date deal with Warner Bros for 2021 releases, and a new 31-day window from 2022 onwards

Cineworld and Warner Bros cut a new deal on the theatrical window in the UK

The Cineworld Group has cut a deal with Warner Bros for day-and-date, multi-platform releases in 2021, and beginning in 2022, the two parties have agreed on an exclusive theatrical window of 31 days before premium video on demand (PVoD). There will be an extended window of 45 days for films that open and meet an agreed-on box-office threshold. Films likely to have a 45-day window include huge blockbusters such as Fantastic Beasts 3 and Aquaman 2.

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The new policy marks a significant departure for Cineworld, which had previously refused to screen films day-and-date in the UK, insisting that movies respect the 16-week window. In 2019, it stopped screening Curzon films because they would have multi-platform releases.

The deal also signals Warner Bros’s faith that customers will ditch staying at home and return to the cinemas once the pandemic is over. In 2021, films such as the highly anticipated The Matrix 4 and Denis Villeneuve's Dune will be released simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max or straight to PVoD.

Last year, when Warner Bros announced that it would release its much-anticipated studio films on its streaming platform on the day of release, many predicted that this would signal the end of cinema. Its latest announcement shows that such fears may have been raised prematurely.

Ben Roberts, the chief executive of the BFI, has welcomed the news and has countered predictions that the cinemas would be the preserve of blockbusters in the future, saying on Twitter: “This is big news and should be an opportunity for independent films.” This view is likely because cinemas might be reluctant to keep blockbusters on their screens when alternative platforms are available, thus creating a window for independent films to fill screens. Cinemas will also have to prove their experience is worth spending a premium for over waiting 31 days, although it's unclear at this moment what the price points of PVoD will be compared to a cinema ticket.

It will be interesting to see how this new deal will affect markets across Europe. Concerns about piracy may well mean that exhibitors in the European Union will want to follow suit. The Cannes Film Festival has stopped Netflix films from playing in competition because of its policy to only show films intended for release in French cinemas that have respected the current window. The reduction of the theatrical window has been under discussion for a number of years, and we are now bearing witness to the first signs of it happening in practice.

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