There are times unfortunately in any form of human relationship where you have to do an assessment and realize, this is not working. Sometimes the relationship has become abusive, dysfunctional, or simply there is no longer the intent to move forward. It is sad, it is regrettable, and you look back on the relationship and wonder where it went wrong. The longer the relationship has gone on, the more painful it is to terminate it.
The business of exhibition has come to the end of its relationships with the studios. For years the studios have had a steady dalliance with the new girl on the block, streaming. When they had the opportunity to create their own alliance and own streaming services, the writing was plain to see. It was over. The studios have woven the demise of their long time partner in a cruel and purposeful manner. Every Cinemacon the studios line up and proclaim they are partners with exhibition. After each speech and each false proclamation, they slink back to their current mistress, streaming, for a quick canoodle.
They have changed. They are no longer storytellers or showmen, instead they are accountants and MBA’s who look at forecasts and spreadsheets. They have no ability to weave a tale. Everything is an equation to them and they have zero knowledge of the history or tradition of the movies. They are self-obsessed and frankly are uncomfortable with a business whose lifeblood was relationships.
It has been coming for a while, they got rid of co-op advertising, stopped placing ads in local papers. They stopped servicing regional film exchanges, they collapsed local offices and began to centralize local operations. There was a time when you had a relationship with the studios and you would do each other favors. No more. They raised the film rental to a ridiculous level and began slowly squeezing the life out of exhibition. The VPF was probably the last and fatal blow. Although it was saving the studios money, it galled them to think of underwriting any part of exhibition.
They started playing with day and date. It began with Tower Heist, and they retreated briefly based on industry pushback. They COVID descended on the world, it provided a measure of opportunity to implement a long held plan. They desire a one to one relationship with the consumer. Not because it would produce more income, in the short term it would not. What it allows them to do in the case of Disney + is to place an inflated valuation on their bottom line as a result of having subscribers. This produces a far greater valuation than a theatrical release. It really has to do with the way that Wall Streets looks at you, and not how the consumer looks at you. They are so much more concerned about how they are perceived by analysts than the public.
At the end of the day, this relationship has ceased to function on any level. It is time that exhibition takes a little me time.
Many exhibitors tell me that they need the studios and cannot do business without them. I would say, while I understand the pain of moving from the studio relationships, if the move does not occur then it is just a matter of time before the final knife plunge by the studios occurs.
There is hope and there are alternatives. There are about 15 minor studios who if given the opportunity would hand the business of exhibition a proper window if they could get 400 theaters to play their movies. Long ignored by theaters, these distributors have vital and compelling content that just needs a chance to bloom. Companies like Roadside Attractions, IFC, Bayview, and Janus offer compelling movies and if given a chance could bring new audiences into your theaters.
Every year the members of the International Film and Television Alliance produce around 2100 movies. They are collectively the largest source English language motion picture production on the planet. In reviewing the titles their members have produced, they could easily replace the output now being put out by the studios. I have suggested to the folks at the ICA that an alliance should be struck between the ICA and the IFTA to provide theaters new and attractive product and that theaters could breathe life into a movie that might get lost in the crowded menuing system of the streamers.
The exhibition industry must admit to itself that this is not working. They must admit that they provide great value to the life cycle of a movie. They must admit that the studios have become abusive. And like any abusive relationship, someone should leave.
This morning with a stroke of a pen, a judge obliterated the 71 year old consent decree.“Because changes in antitrust law and administration have diminished the importance of the Decrees’ restrictions, while still providing protections that will keep the probability of future violations low, the Court finds that termination of the Decrees is in the public interest,” U.S. District judge Analisa Torres wrote in a ruling Friday.
Enough, please realize that the only one you can count on is you…..