Europe Cinema Group Speaks Out Against Breaking Theatrical Windows Amid Coronavirus

Courtesy of Cineworld

Cineworld in London's Leicester Square

Releasing films directly to VOD during the cinema shutdown “is not in the interest of either the [theater] sector or audiences,” said Europe's International Union of Cinemas.

In the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, with cinemas shut in all major territories worldwide, Europe's International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) is calling on distributors not to use the crisis to break the theatrical window and release films directly via VOD or home entertainment.

NBCUniversal and Sony Pictures have already begun to experiment with on-demand releases for new titles, with NBCUniversal making Trolls World Tour, The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Focus Features' Emma available on demand, while Sony has announced a March 24 on-demand release of the Vin Diesel movie Bloodshot. Warner Bros. pushed up the home entertainment release of Ben Affleck-starrer The Way Back, making the film, currently on theatrical release, available for electronic sell-through stateside on Tuesday, March 24, with an EST rollout in international territories to follow. Lionsgate has done something similar for its faith-based drama I Still Believe, which will go out on premium VOD platforms starting March 27.

Disney announced it would be releasing its Pixar animated feature Onward direct to the home as of Friday, also citing coronavirus concerns. The title will be available on the studio's Disney+ SVOD platform from April 3.

There have been a handful of similar moves among independent distributors in Europe. Kino Swiat made The Hater, the new film from Oscar-nominee Jan Komasa (Corpus Christi) available on VOD 12 days after its theatrical premiere. Munich-based distributor eksystent Filmverleih has done a direct-to-VOD launch in Germany for Isadora's Children, the dance drama from French director Damien Manivel.

But on Friday, the UNIC called the straight-to-VOD development one that is not "in the interest of either the sector or audiences ... We anticipate that the overwhelming majority of films, which have been delayed by the current difficulties, will be rescheduled for cinema release as life returns to normal."

The UNIC, which represents major independent theater chains and national theater associations in Europe, called for solidarity within the film industry as it faces the "unparalleled challenges presented by the global coronavirus outbreak."

A representative for the UNIC told The Hollywood Reporter that the association was encouraging its members to seek government support and backed European-level initiatives, such as the Temporary Framework for state aid, approved Thursday by the European Commission, which allows direct grants, state-guaranteed loans and other forms of aid for companies hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

But the UNIC is telling its members not to encourage or participate in programs that collapse the theatrical window and send new movies direct to VOD.

"Every part of the sector faces losses at the moment," the rep said. "We recognize that companies face extremely difficult decisions in these unprecedented times and our message is that we should stick together."

To ensure the "long-term health of our sector," the UNIC concluded, European cinemas need to demonstrate "a unity of purpose and a shared sense of responsibility ... In these unprecedented times, it is crucial that the entire industry comes together and prepares for the day when we can welcome audiences back to once again enjoy the unique big-screen experience."