Lachlan Murdoch Shares His Theory for Summer Movie Box-Office Slump

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At an investor conference, the Fox chairman also attacked the time lag between a movie appearing in theaters and appearing in on-demand outlets.

Call it the Dory theory. 

At an investor conference on Wednesday, Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, attributed the disappointing summer box office to the lack of hit animation films.

"It's really interesting," he said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. "The short answer is that movies aren't compelling. People felt they didn't have to see these movies in the theaters. … But if you take the four top animated films [from 2016 and 2017], that makes up for 90 percent of the drop in box office."

The summer of 2016 was led by Finding Dory, which grossed nearly half a billion dollars worldwide. Also coming out last year in the warmer months were The Secret Life of Pets, The Legend of Tarzan and The Angry Birds Movie.

This summer saw Despicable Me 3, grossing about $260 million, and Cars 3 at about $150 million. The only other big animated film this summer was The Emoji Movie, which was roasted by critics and barely took in $80 million for Sony. 

Maybe this is the Emoji theory, which still leaves room for studio executives to blame Rotten Tomatoes for the poor box office this summer.

At the conference, Murdoch also took a shot at the windowing system in Hollywood.

He said that after films come out theatrically, "there is a blackout where consumers can't access content anywhere until you get to video-on-demand. A lot of piracy happens in those 45 days. That is a highly inefficient system."

Murdoch added that the system has to change and predicted it would happen in the coming year.

Notably, his brother James appeared at the same conference the previous year and provoked controversy by talking about the "crazy hold-backs that theater owners put in place."

When James Murdoch criticized the blackout period a year ago, it drew condemnation from the National Association of Theatre Owners and some support from the MPAA's then-chief Chris Dodd.

But the Murdochs are speaking up about the need to be more flexible in the digital era. In the television business, for instance, Lachlan Murdoch today suggested he wanted to move away from exclusive content licensing deals. He spoke about how consumers are increasingly watching on a nonlinear basis and said it made sense to have stacked content available for fans on platforms like Fox's FXNow app. Sometimes, the offers are too good to pass up, however. When it came to American Crime Story, for instance, Murdoch said Netflix offered "an extraordinary high price."