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The novel coronavirus pandemic continues to leave the theatrical business on unsure footing for the near future, leaving tensions running high between studios and exhibitors. During a Thursday evening virtual panel, Viral: A Film Industry Conversation, Alamo Drafthouse founder and executive chairman Tim League offered his thoughts.
“Cinema is not competing against VOD. It’s not competing against home entertainment. It’s competing against restaurants, comedy clubs and out-of-home experiences,” said League, over Zoom, after sharing, “At Arthouse Convergence years ago, Ira [Deutchman] gave a keynote address about the long history of the death of it, from television to cable to VHS to DVD, and everything had been wrong so far. People inherently as a society want to get out of the house and that is more true than ever right now.”
The exhibitor talked about the state of the theatrical experience as a part the panel hosted by Cinetic. Fellow participants included Cinetic’s John Sloss, Killer Films’ Christine Vachon and filmmaker John Ridley.
All of Alamo Drafthouse‘s 40-plus locations have been closed since in mid-March. More recently the Austin-based company, one of the country’s leading independent cinema chains, announced that it would remain closed despite directives made by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who gave the go-ahead for certain businesses, including cinemas, to reopen as of May 1, as long as crowds are limited to 25 or fewer people.
Earlier in the day, Alamo Drafthouse announced the launch of VOD platform “Alamo on Demand,” a partnership with ScreenPlus and Vista Cinema. The collection of titles will be curated by Drafthouse programmers, and counts partners including Lionsgate, Magnolia and Neon, among others.
Sloss asked for League’s outlook on theatrical windowing in the wake of COVID-19, invoking Universal’s choice to send animated family film Trolls World Tour straight to on-demand amid widespread theater closures. The move, and subsequent comments from NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell about the title’s on-demand success, incited AMC Theatres chairman and-CEO Adam Aron to release a statement saying that the chain — the world’s largest — would no longer screen Universal movies.
Said League, “This is a perspective I have often had about our industry — certain people who finance movies often do it as an investment and it is the burden of the cinemas to be a viable part of recouping that investment. We have to prove our worth. It’s not a given that there is a theatrical window.”
He concluded: “I want to be a part of the movement that says being a link in that chain that is the life cycle of a film is meaningful and it drives revenue and increases the value of a film. That is the pressure I feel as an exhibitor, and I think all exhibitors should, coming out of this.”
Most cinemas are planning, as of now, to begin reopening in June.
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