Paramount, AMC Theatres Strike Unprecedented Pact to Shorten Release Windows

Behind the Scenes: THR's Executive Roundtable
Jessica Chou

Rob Moore, Paramount

For now, the experiment only applies to two smaller films.

The great debate over theatrical windows just took a dramatic turn.

Changing decades of tradition, two major North American cinema chains have agreed to let Paramount make two fall titles available digitally just 17 days after they are all but done with their theatrical run (albeit on fewer than 300 screens).

That means customers could watch Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (Oct. 23) and Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (Oct. 30) in the comfort of their own homes as early as six weeks to seven weeks, instead of three months, after they first open in theaters.

Paramount announced the deal with AMC Theatres — the second-largest circuit in the U.S. — and Canadian giant Cineplex. The big question now is how many other exhibitors will agree to the groundbreaking initiative.

Generally speaking, a genre title will end its run in theaters in a month to six weeks, whereas a bigger film can play for 10 weeks or more. Regardless of how long a movie is on screens, however, exhibitors insist on a three- to four-month window — much to the frustration of Hollywood studios. Paramount's model for Ghost Dimension and Scout's Guide addresses that frustration, and is sure to prompt other studios to follow suit with select titles if enough exhibitors go along with the new model.

"Exhibition for the first time was open-minded about evolving our business instead of sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring what is happening around us," Paramount vice chair Rob Moore told The Hollywood Reporter. "This is all about changing the definition of theatrical windows. Instead of starting the countdown from when a movie opens, we are starting from when it ends."

So far, AMC and Cineplex are the only two cinema chains Paramount has approached. The studio is now going to other exhibitors to see if they will agree to play Ghost Dimension and Scout's Guide. In return, Paramount will give theater owners a portion of digital rental revenue earned until 90 days after the film's initial theatrical release.

Moore stressed the experiment wouldn't apply to the studio's next release, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (July 31); nor would it make sense for other big movies that have longer theatrical runs. In terms of films with a shorter shelf life, "what happens next depends upon how these two movies work," he said.

Added AMC CEO and president Gerry Lopez: “Consumers know theatrical movies from their 'gotta see it now' exclusive releases in theaters, but every movie is different, and a one-size-fits-all business model has never made sense. This model aligns the interests of consumers, filmmakers and exhibitors to maximize the theatrical experience first and then enable legitimate digital access."

Cineplex president and CEO Ellis Jacob concurred, saying it provides distributors the flexibility to tailor digital release plans to individual films.

But other exhibitors have long maintained that consumers won't bother going to a theater if they know a film will soon be available to watch at home.