How’s the new golden age of TV working out for you? It got a little better for me this week when I finally hunted down some
The Harry Potter-world movie Fantastic
Beasts and Where to Find Them came out in
theaters in November, but I didn’t catch it then.
I blame a husband who would rather have a root
canal than see a fantasy movie.
So I waited for it to come to the streaming
services. And I waited. After several months
it appeared on the transactional services, first
as a purchase-only option, then as a rental. I almost bit, and I would have if my viewing queues
weren’t packed with things I don’t have time
But now (as I write this is mid-August),
Fantastic Beasts is on HBO, so I recorded it with
the Sling TV cloud DVR. If I find a few minutes
before Defenders starts up, I’ll actually watch it.
This got me thinking about Hollywood’s windowed release system, which increasingly seems
outdated in the age of streaming. The system releases movies according to a set release schedule to maximize studio profits. DVD and Blu-ray
sales are declining, but are still lucrative enough
that movies come to those formats before premium services like HBO.
Subscription services get a lot of buzz, but look
to any of them for recent blockbusters and you’ll
be disappointed. Changing that, however, means
changing the way Hollywood does business.
Change isn’t as impossible as it seems,
though. I spoke about this with Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research for
Wedbush Securities, who told me the idea that
the release system needs to change is “a combination of patently obvious and wrong.” The
system has been in flux since it was created.
When the only distribution points were theaters and TV networks, the window was 14 years.
The arrival of premium cable led to an 11-month
window, then the VCR led to a 6-month window.
“The windows have consistently shifted for the
last 40 years, and undoubtedly will shift again in
the future,” Pachter says.
If we take it as a given that the release system will change, the question becomes when?
Changing the theatrical release period upsets theater owners. They’re under enough
financial pressure with declining attendance.
If potential moviegoers know they can simply
wait a few weeks to see a title at home through
a service they’re already paying for, then the
movie theaters’ decline will accelerate. That’s
why one plan for shortening the release schedule involves cutting theater owners in on the
Real change won’t come until studios make
more money through new methods of distribution than they do from the old ones, Pachter
says. The windowed release system exists for a
reason—it works. When something else works
better, studios will push for it.
“If managed properly, new windows are ad-
ditive, even though they clearly cannibalize all
other windows,” Pachter says. “It’s the studio’s
job to figure out how to add a new revenue
stream that maximizes revenues and profit-
ability, and they have teams of people to do
the statistical calculations necessary to make
When will the streaming services get new re-
leases? When they’re willing to pay more than
Hollywood already gets from other sources. For
special-effects blockbusters, Pachter doesn’t see
that happening anytime soon.
When Hollywood does finally settle on a revised schedule, I suspect it will already be too
late. The limited series is taking the place of
movies in our consciousness, providing excellent long-form storytelling, and streaming services have become skilled at cranking them
out. When Hollywood does finally decide to
put its blockbusters online faster, it may find a
lack of buyers. How about this, Hollywood: Instead of a Fantastic Beasts sequel, work with
Netflix to create a limited series with the same
characters. It’s bound to be a buzzed-about,
must-watch show, and no one will have to wait
to see it.
Troy Dreier ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior associate
editor of Streaming Media and Onlinevideo.net.
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