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Universal chair Donna Langley says that the film industry is continuing to dodge and weave what the COVID-19 pandemic throws at it, but that the “new normal,” whatever it ends up being, would have happened even without a virus shutting down movie theaters across the globe.
“I think the industry is in this moment of evolution, we are surfing the wave of change right now,” Langley said at The Information’s WTF conference Thursday. “I think what we are seeing play out now was happening pre-pandemic. The streaming companies doing extraordinarily well, scaling their volume output, that has been happening for a while.”
“Inevitably a year from now things will look different than they do today,” Langley added.
And Universal is being conservative as it looks at the coming months.
“None of us really know anything. If you look back a year ago, we certainly thought the industry or theatrical moviegoing, would be back in full swing by now,” Langley said. “We are anticipating the [theatrical] market to be down by 20 percent going forward, and for it taking a long time to get back to those pre-pandemic numbers.”
However, while other studios are exploring how they can merge their theatrical distribution plans with their streaming ambitions, Langley says Universal remains committed to the theatrical experience.
“The way that we as a film studio monetize our content is for it to begin in a theatrical window, with a big marketing campaign behind it,” she added. “That big marketing campaign and the theatrical footprint is what makes movies matter. That wont change.”
But that doesn’t mean Universal isn’t on board with streaming. The studio has partnered with NBCUniversal’s own streaming service Peacock for a handful of day-and-date releases, including the upcoming Halloween Kills, though Langley noted she thinks it will be “more of us making originals for them going forward.”
Still, the shift to streaming will create long-lasting change in at least one area: The shorter theatrical windows that have become a negotiating point amid the pandemic.
“We are training consumers to expect movies earlier,” she said. “Movies do cycle through their prime theatrical revenue in two or three weeks in many cases. It just makes practical sense.”
She also touched on Scarlett Johansson’s recently-settled lawsuit with Disney, which stemmed from the studio putting Black Widow on streaming the same day it debuted in theaters.
“We are shifting the norms that have been in existence for decades. You want to communicate with the talent you are working with,” Langley said, adding that a new compensation model has emerged. “It is actually quite easy to think about in a way, if your movie is for theatrical you get compensated on box office revenue, and if you are making a movie for streaming, you are making what was anticipated to be your backend.”
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