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Paramount Pictures chairman Jim Gianopulos delivered a keynote address to Tokyo’s TIFFCOM content market Wednesday, offering a detailed recap of how COVID-19 has reshaped the movie business in 2020.
The veteran studio head’s assessment, delivered via video, was sober-minded but also optimistic. “I firmly believe the entertainment industry will emerge from this experience stronger than ever before,” Gianopulos said.
The Paramount chief talked listeners through how Paramount was forced to gradually escalate its response to the pandemic, as it became increasingly clear throughout the spring and summer that the virus wouldn’t be going away for some time to come. He admitted that the severity of the crisis, culminating in the mass closure of U.S. movie theaters, “caught Hollywood off guard.” Release dates for top Paramount titles like A Quiet Place II and Top Gun: Maverick were initially pushed back a few months, before ultimately becoming part of a “cascade” of rescheduling deep into 2021.
Gianopulos added that “the news isn’t all bad,” highlighting how studios have been able to offset some theatrical losses by increasing sales and content allocations to streaming platforms, which have capitalized on record consumer demand for film and TV content within the home. While Disney has moved top theatrical titles like Hamilton and Mulan to Disney+, Paramount has made lucrative sales of titles like The Lovebirds and The Trial of the Chicago 7 to Netflix, and Without Remorse and Coming to America 2 to Amazon Prime. “These moves and others have sustained us, as content creators, during a difficult time for the industry,” he said.
Digital catalog sales, have increased 55 percent for the film sector compared to the same period in 2019, according to Gianopulos. He added that “Paramount has done even better, improving 84 percent.”
As Paramount “eagerly looks forward to the return to theaters,” Gianopulos said the studio is taking solace in trends on evidence in Asia. He observed that in some parts of the world, the great theatrical rebound “has already started.”
Speaking to his audience in Japan, where “COVID-19 is much more contained,” he pointed out that 100 percent of theaters in the country have reopened, which opened the door for the anime blockbuster Demon Slayer, released Oct. 16, to make its record $43 million opening. The film has since become the fastest film in Japanese box office history to hit $100 million, with many analysts predicting that it may climb as high as $250 million.
Gianopulos then turned to China, which was the first territory to close its theaters in January, but also among the first to stage a full comeback. “In August, theaters had reopened and The Eight Hundred premiered to great success,” he said. “The film will ultimately gross over $450 million and will likely be the highest worldwide box office film of 2020, marking the first time ever that a non-English language film has ever earned that distinction.”
Summing up the results, Gianopulos said the East Asian market rebound “clearly demonstrates that audiences want to return to theaters.”
He added: “The truth is, as much as the experience of watching movies at home has improved in recent years, there’s no replacing the thrill of watching your favorite movie stars on the big screen with booming sound and a bucket of fresh popcorn on your lap.”
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