Disney skips French theater exit Strange World causes panic
Disney’s strategic decision to forgo the theatrical release of its next big animated feature “Strange World” in France due to windowing regulations threatens to upend the country’s film industry.
Indeed, the French box office is increasingly dominated by films from American studios. With ticket sales in the country already down, the prospect of losing the type of family outing that Disney specializes in producing is a terrifying prospect for the hard-hit industry. And French exhibitors aren’t the only ones to lose if “Strange World” starts a trend of Hollywood projects bypassing France’s onerous regulations dictating the length of an exclusive theatrical release in favor of premiering on streaming services. It is also a burden for distributors and producers, who are funded by taxes levied by the National Film Board (CNC) on admissions.
For Disney, which revealed that “Strange World” will skip its planned November 23 theatrical debut in favor of launching on Disney+, it’s a sign of the efforts the company is willing to make to bolster subscriptions to its streaming service. But France left no choice to the company. The studio’s decision is in reaction to the country’s windowing rules which were updated in January and set Disney’s paid VOD window at four months and subscription streaming window at 17 months after the debut of the movies in theaters. The only way to circumvent these French rules entirely is to forego a theatrical release. Currently, Disney is measured by Wall Street on the number of new signups it receives for Disney+, Hulu and its other in-house streaming services, with theater revenue being a much less important metric for investors. .
Commenting on its bold move, Disney said “the cumbersome new media timeline is anti-consumer, ignoring changing behavior over the past few years and putting us at greater risk of piracy.” The studio also said it “will continue to make decisions on a film-by-film basis and based on the unique conditions of each market.” Slated for a Nov. 23 rollout, “Strange World” boasts a star-studded voice cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Taylor Swift and Kristen Bell. The animated film follows the journey of a family of explorers through a treacherous land of fantastical creatures.
It’s a blow to the local business given that Disney tent poles have been hugely successful in France. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, Hollywood films broke a 10-year record by accounting for 59% of all theatrical admissions in the country, with Disney alone accounting for 23.4% of the soundtrack market share with six films .
Comscore France’s Eric Marti says the impact of streamers skipping French theaters on some movies could lead to “big losses”. Losses could snowball if the move prompts other companies such as Paramount Global or Warner Bros. Discovery to follow suit. To this end, Paramount+ will be available in the country later this year and HBO Max is expected to launch in France in 2023, which will change the incentive structure for these companies.
“If Disney decides to offer three or four films a year directly on its platform and is followed by other streamers, in particular Warner or Paramount, the theaters could miss 15 to 20 million admissions per year, and that would represent a loss of €17. million or 18 million euros that the CNC would not be able to raise to fund local industry,” Marti said. The analyst said French distributors would also suffer from this private soundtrack as exhibitors would be keen to schedule large tentpoles on as many screens as possible, eliminating smaller films.
Ardavan Safaee, president of Pathé Films, which owns the country’s largest multiplex chain, said Disney’s decision moment comes at an inflection point when “streaming services have finally understood the value of cinema for build film profiles”. He expressed concern that platforms that have decided to offer their films an exclusive 30-45 day theatrical window may not follow Disney’s lead.
“Apple just announced it will be giving its Brad Pitt movie ‘Formula One’ a wide release with an exclusive 30-day window, and Netflix recently announced it will also release Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s new movie. (“Bardo, false chronicle of a handful of truths’) first in theaters; and so these films will be world premiering in theaters everywhere except France because we have these windowing rules,” Safaee said.
France and Portugal are the only countries in Europe where these rules are set by the government. Elsewhere, windows are negotiated contractually by a film’s producer and distributor, often with the exhibitor community.
Besides the long SVOD window, Disney is up against the free channels in France which have also obtained an exclusive window on all films, including those produced in-house by streaming services belonging to American studios. Under current guidelines, platforms must pull titles from their platform only five months after offering them to their subscribers. In principle, the free channels only have a month’s exclusivity on films produced in-house by streamers with budgets over 25 million euros. But even then, platforms must automatically remove these titles from their SVOD services after five months, while broadcasters have 14 months to program these films.
The measures were imposed on the studio by the French government even though it had not signed the deal after months of heated debates with other industry players. The French exhibitors’ organization issued a statement on Wednesday asking the National Film Board to step in and mediate discussions between all affected parties ahead of the renegotiation of the current windowing rules, which is scheduled for January 24, 2023. Disney’s decision could cloud those talks, putting pressure on authorities to drastically change the length of time that movies must only be shown in theaters.
“Only the French government, on which the CNC depends, can modify the exclusive windows allocated to theaters and free channels,” said Marc Missonnier, a producer who was part of the working group that negotiated an agreement that made streaming mandatory. services invest a portion of their revenue to support local content.
Missionnier said the issue of free channels is one of three challenges raised by streamers, with the exclusive four-month window that is given to exhibitors and the SVOD window set at 15 months (for Netflix) or 17 months for d other services including Disney.
“If we take into consideration the fact that the window used everywhere between theaters and streaming is 45 to 60 days, we can easily imagine the risk of piracy in France where films will not be legally available online for four months. after their release. in cinemas,” Missonnier said.
He thinks it’s time to review the windows.
“If we cut it in half and put that window at two months, that would already be a big step forward and it would be a good way to get streamers to play the ball,” added Missonnier.