We are beginning to see enough New Theatrical release activity (after three miserable years) to once again run the analysis on a regular basis.
There are currently five films with a box office gross in excess of $25 million with street dates assigned (in the pipeline) and another nine matching that profile currently in theatres (with the exception of writer/director Zach Cregger’s Barbarian, which Disney has passed over).
The big news this past week was Disney announcing a Mar. 28 “Digital” window for filmmaker James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water. And, as predicated, pre-orders for both Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD editions sprung up immediately for delivery on the same date.
The other new pirate focus this past week was director Kyle Marvin’s 80 for Brady, which got both DVD and Blu-ray product offerings released.
Disney Media and Entertainment made no provisions for DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD buying options for Avatar: The Way of Water, which leaves a vacuum to be filled … and it will. It begs the question, but why not return to a workable business (meaning profitable) model where the age-old rules of Best, Better and Promo apply.
Under such a scheme, a film would open theatrically (Best), and after a reasonable runout (88 to 95 days), it would then be offered for sale as physical media (Better) … this would then be followed, say 30 to 45 days later, by streaming and digital viewing options (Promo).
Instead, and not just Disney, the studios seem content to turn a profitable business model on its head. The argument seems to be, theatrical isn’t what it once was and home entertainment packaged media is yesterday’s viewing platform. This mindset resulted in roughly $800 million in collective studios loses each and every month during 2022. That simply cannot be sustained.
Hand-in-hand with the “home entertainment packaged media is yesterday’s viewing platform” argument is a shunning of Theatrical Catalog (1930 thru 1996, the launch year of DVD). With the exception of the occasional new-to-Blu-ray release and 4K Ultra HD catalog upgrades, entire segments of these vast film libraries are being ignored.
It appears that the main triggering event for a studio-wide loss of Theatrical Catalog involvement was the April Fool’s Day of 2021 “forced retirement” of key personnel by Warner Bros. and the discontinuation of the Warner Archive Store and its transfer to Amazon.com. It was, as it appears to have turned out, a pennywise and pound-foolish move.
Here’s what quickly happened. In 2020 there were 1,447 Theatrical Catalog releases on DVD, which was a fairly typical number of new SKUs to enter the market from all sources during any given year.
With the “signal” that the focus would be elsewhere (streaming), the marketplace quickly reacted and interpreted the Amazon move as an abandonment of copyright considerations. Of course, they did no such thing, but that’s how the “market” saw it and that meant every film from the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s … etc., was now fair game.
The number of new Theatrical Catalog releases doubled, yes doubled, in 2021 to 2,947 new SKUs. That was a new record. But records are meant to be broken and in 2022 the number of new SKUs in that category doubled again to 5,893.
What were the studios doing during this rapid rise in film output on DVD? In 2020 they, collectively, contributed 157 of the 1,447 new arrivals, or 10.85% of the total. In 2021, the count fell to 94 (3.19%) … as the overall output doubled, the studios all but abandoned the market (the signal was clear).
Oh, but it got worse. Last year, the SKU total ballooned to 5,893 new releases, but the studios put out just 29 (less than one-half of one percent) new Theatrical Catalog titles. 29!
The point being, when you leave a void; a vacuum, the marketplace will respond.
And what about 2023? We are nine weeks in and already 2,299 new Theatrical Catalog titles have arrived on DVD. That is a trend, if left unchecked, that will see the overall output more than double again (way more than double). The studio count to date? Eight (all of those have been from Paramount — MOD replacements of previously released films).
The “Hollywood” studios collectively spent 100 years building vast film libraries and now they’ve literally left the vault doors open for the Visigoths and Vandals to sack. Is there anyone watching the store?