Paramount plans to cut down the wait between when a movie is released in theaters and when it's finally available to watch on demand. According to The Wall Street Journal, Paramount hopes to begin making all of its movies available to watch at home only two weeks after they leave most theaters. Two small films will be released this way this fall, and the studio reportedly intends to shift all films over to the advanced schedule later in the year.
Studios spend millions advertising their movies... and then don't let people see them
That may not sound like much, but it's potentially a big change from the status quo: for decades, studios have typically waited at least 90 days after a film's theatrical release before making it available on home media, often leaving a gap of a month or more. The intention was to drive viewers to the box office, but it's meant leaving a long window during which no one could actually watch the new movie.
"What other product creates its most attention at launch and then creates a significant period of time where the consumer can’t acquire that product?" Rob Moore, Paramount's vice chairman, says to the Journal. Moore's quote basically speaks to all of the major issues at play here. Millions of dollars go into advertising a movie as it heads into theaters, and then that money has to be spent again to remind people of the movie once it's available at home. With this change, studios can use existing advertising to drive viewers to on demand options once they become available, which it clearly hopes will raise revenues. That could also help the studio make up money on a film that isn't performing as well as it'd like.
The existing release gap also creates other headaches for studios, like piracy. While making it briefly impossible to see a new movie may have once convinced people to catch it while it was in theaters, it's now more likely to have the effect of making people see where else they can find it. By removing most of the home release gap, Paramount may be able to reduce the number of viewers turning to piracy only because there's no way to pay.
The final 'Paranormal Activity' will be one of the first films with a short window
Even recently, a change like this is something that theater chains may have seemed deeply opposed to. But theater attendance is dropping, and Paramount is structuring a change in a way that's still giving big theaters a reason to advertise a film. The Journal reports that Paramount will share on demand and other digital revenue with theater chains, which could make up for any box office revenue this cuts out.
Shortening the release date for all of Paramount's movies will be a bigger move, and it's not entirely clear if it has the deals to make that happen just yet. The Journal says that Paramount has made deals for two movies right now and with only two theater chains. They're two of the biggest chains, however: AMC and Cineplex. That they're willing to sign on suggests that Paramount has worked this out in an appealing way, but the studio will have to get the other major chains to sign on if it wants to extend this practice to big-budget films, like Transformers, as the Journal says it intends to. Paramount has reportedly only spoken to those two chains so far, but it intends to offer the same deal to others.
Small distributors have already been moving up home releases
The two films that Paramount will start this process with are Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. These are both low-budget films, and it makes sense to test this new model on them. They're likely to have a smaller audience at the box office, so quickly turning around and marketing on demand sales could help boost their viewership. Larger films also run in theaters longer, so shortening the window may not have as much of an impact — in fact, in some instances, the shorter window may not be noticeable at all.
Paramount's plan to shorten the release window is big so far as big studios and big movies go, but it isn't entirely unprecedented. That's especially true when looking at its first two films. Indie distributors have already been releasing movies in theaters and on demand with only a small gap between them, if not simultaneously. It's essentially the same model, but possibly even more helpful since those distributors don't have the marketing budgets to create the same type of buzz that Paramount can.
That makes this move a step toward simultaneous theatrical and on demand releases, but only a small one. Studios are becoming more aware of how people want to watch movies — and with the money that studios are throwing behind their films, they need to do everything that they can to make sure people are interested and able to pay.