Imax CEO Rich Gelfond Says His Team “Prematurely Gray” From Shifting Releases; Sees Netflix & Streamers Softening On Windows In Post-COVID World

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Imax CEO Rich Gelfond anticipates streamers will become more active in exhibition as the post-COVID business shakes out and said his team is turning gray at the stress of constantly shifting release schedules — even as Deadline reports that Warner Bros. is thinking of pushing Wonder Woman 1984 to late December.

“One of the reasons the streaming companies have resisted a theatrical run is because they didn’t want to wait for a 90-day window,” Gelfond said during a BofA virtual media conference, noting that before Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman premiered on the service, Netflix had discussions with chains about releasing the film theatrically with a shorter window. “So we know they are open to it.”

“So I wouldn’t be surprised in the new world if there was a new windowing system. Netflix is facing competition. My own guess would be that they will be more flexible on the model.”

That said, he noted that a controversial deal in July between giant exhibitor AMC Entertainment and Universal Studios to affirm but shrink the window “has not gotten a lot of traction.” The pact lets films to move to premium video on demand within three weeks of their theatrical release.

“No other studio has pushed forward with that model and no other large exhibitor has signed on. Frankly, I would be surprised if anyone signed on. I don’t think that [will] be the blueprint for the industry.”

Windows will become more compressed overall and some mid-level movies will end up going straight to streaming, he said. That has little impact on Imax, whose meat and potatoes are blockbusters.

Gelfond is upbeat on the 2021 slate but joked that his distribution executives have gone “prematurely gray” in stressful 2020 trying to plan as release dates keep shifting. “It’s been a little bit like whackamole, so every time you hammer down one release, something else moves. It’s a bit like 3D whackamole,” he clarified, “because everything has been coming at you in all directions.”

For 2020, he ticked off Wonder Woman, James Bond No Time To Die and Black Widow but noted “a lot of pieces are still moving around.” A bit ominously, he reassured investors that Imax has “a very enviable liquidity position. We are in it for the long run.”

One casualty of the shifting around is that because Imax had committed to Tenet in China, where it has a major presence, it won’t have much room to play Mulan when the Disney film opens there this weekend.

“We are committed to Tenet in China. We would have played [Mulan] … but we don’t have a lot of room in or network to play it, so I don’t know what the expectations are,” he said. He said he would be concerned about piracy. Disney has made Mulan available in Disney+ markets with premium access for $29.99.

Gelfond said early indications from theaters opened with reduced capacity are that audiences are filling up Friday and Saturday nights but as hoped also coming more during the week. That’s been one of the goals of a COVID transition that exhibitors have said they are nudging with marketing and promos and hope sticks.

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