Not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization although there’s some doubt about whether there’s a future for that, either. The other NATO. The National Association of Theater Owners. Movie theaters are having a bad time. Here’s what happened at their most recent convention as reported at The Verge:
Studio after studio touted their box office achievements. Executives couldn’t stop dropping superlatives, describing how the business was “thriving.” NATO chairman John D. Loeks went so far as to call reports about various threats to the industry “fake news.” But the truth is the industry is facing challenges, something that only Disney’s executive vice president of theatrical distribution, Dave Hollis, really had the courage to acknowledge directly.
“Even though we’ve had these gains in overall box office, we can also see that attendance has been more or less flat,” Hollis said during a Tuesday state of the union presentation. He stressed that while ticket prices have largely masked the problem, attendance simply isn’t growing, with the exponential uptick in internet usage and other activities a likely culprit. “This is disruption personified,” he said, to a near-silent industry crowd.
It didn’t help that a week before the show, Variety reported that six of the seven Hollywood studios were in active negotiations to release their films for home viewing less than three weeks after they hit theaters. Historically, the theatrical release window has been sacrosanct. It’s the amount of time movies play in theaters — and only in theaters — before rolling out to video on demand, Blu-ray, streaming services, and the other various options on a staggered schedule. Right now that window is largely standardized around 90 days (some players offer films a couple of weeks earlier through electronic services), with theater owners taking the position that a shortened window could irrevocably harm their business, if not sink it entirely.