Black Widow gives a taste of how theatres and streaming can coexist

Despite Covid and rise of streaming, theatrical distribution remains a major revenue generator and cannot be ignored if studios want to make money

Published Wed, Jul 14, 2021 · 05:50 AM

Los Angeles

THERE has been a lot of hand-wringing about the demise of movie theatres over the past year and a half, and for good reason. Most were closed for at least a few months during the height of the pandemic.

Companies such as the Walt Disney Co, NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia and Viacom have started to prioritise streaming for their films, in part to bolster subscriber interest in their own Netflix-style platforms.

Over the weekend came evidence that, at least for the biggest franchise films and with a carefully calibrated pricing strategy, theatrical distribution and streaming can coexist.

At least for now.

Black Widow, a long-delayed Marvel movie, collected about US$80 million in the US and Canada from Thursday night to Sunday for Disney. Overseas, the superhero movie starring Scarlett Johansson sold an additional US$78 million in tickets.

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That means that, in total, roughly 17 million people went to see the movie in a theatre, said Rich Greenfield, a founder of the LightShed Partners research firm.

After giving theatre owners their cut of ticket sales, Disney cleared about US$98 million over the weekend, he calculated.

Disney also made Black Widow available on its Disney+ streaming service, which has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide. Subscribers could instantly watch the film (and have permanent access to it) for a US$30 surcharge. Disney said on Sunday that Disney+ generated about US$60 million from Black Widow orders over the weekend.

Mr Greenfield said that figure equated to about two million transactions and about US$48 million in revenue for Disney after streaming partners had taken their cut. (The benefit to Disney in the form of new subscribers to their streaming service is unknown; subscriptions cost US$8 a month.)

There are several takeaways.

"Imagine being a theatre owner and realising studios need you less and less everyday," Mr Greenfield wrote on Twitter. "Leverage is shifting rapidly in the streaming era toward the studios."

On the other hand, the fact that 17 million people decided to leave their bubbles and go sit with strangers in a theatre - amid rising coronavirus infections, the result of the Delta variant - when they could just push a button in their living rooms is nothing to sneeze at.

For now, theatrical distribution remains a major revenue generator and cannot be ignored if studios want to make money on big-budget spectacles.

"This is an extremely impressive theatrical opening," David A Gross, who runs Franchise Entertainment Research, a movie consultancy, said in an e-mail.

"Certainly the figure would be higher if every theatre were open, if there were zero concern with Covid and if there weren't a streaming option. For now, those impediments make the Black Widow opening all the more impressive." NYTIMES

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