Cinemark, Universal Usher in More Change to Movie-Theater Distribution

Third-largest cinema chain Cinemark agrees to show films for just three weekends before they go to home video

The Cinemark deal is part of an industry shift that could forever alter the film-distribution landscape.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Comcast Corp. ’s Universal Pictures has found another key partner willing to shrink the amount of time new movies play in theaters before moving to home video.

The Hollywood studio and America’s third-largest cinema chain, Cinemark Holdings Inc., announced on Monday a deal under which Universal titles can be shipped online after just three weekends, or 17 days, in theaters. The nation’s largest theater chain, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., agreed to a similar deal with Universal in July.

Traditionally, moviegoers were forced to wait about 2? months from a film’s theatrical debut before they could then watch it at home. Under the new paradigm that Universal is pushing, viewers will, in some cases, be able to watch new movies in their living rooms or on their devices just 2? weeks after they premiere in theaters.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has closed theaters and performance venues around the country, cinemas have been scrambling to find ways to make money while most viewers stay home. By completing a multiyear deal with Universal, Cinemark, like AMC, has acquiesced to what is shaping up to be a historic shift that could forever alter the film-distribution landscape. Even though most films and theaters earn the bulk of box-office revenue in the first few weeks, theater chains have for years been fiercely resistant to reducing their window of exclusivity.

“We were talking about flexible windows since prior to Covid with multiple studios,” said Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi, who added that Universal’s commitment to keep better-performing films in theaters longer than 2? weeks was key to getting the deal done. “We’re in the business of trying to maximize the box-office potential.”

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