COVID-19 has been a boon and bane to various industries. To the movie and entertainment industry, it has proved to be a bit of both. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way movies are now being released. Generally, movie the movie industry has always adhered to the so-called region and 3-month release cycle window.
Here is how it works:
- A movie, let us say No Time To Die, is made, edited and made ready for release
- The movie company divide the whole world into various regions. In each region there are exclusive distribution partners who have traditionally taken the form of movie theatres. These theatres are charged a certain fee in order for them to be allowed to screen the movie
- The movies have a three month window during which they are exclusively sell tickets and overpriced pop-corn to movie goers so they can come and see the movie.
- After this three month period the movie comes out in Blu-Ray, is sold on Itunes, Google Movies and Amazon among a host other platforms
- Eons later DStv gets ahold of the rights and broadcasts the movie with incesssant repeats for a whole month.
It’s a model that has worked well for the movie industry as it allows them to quickly recoup production costs and pay those exorbitant salaries that A-list actors are showered with. It’s also a model that has frustrated pirates including my Zimbabwean pirate friends who have sworn they will never pay to watch a movie.
During the first three months when the movie is in theatres it’s always high to find a good pirate copy of it online. The only versions of the movie available are in the form of theatre releases that are often derided as CAM versions. They often have very poor picture quality, garbled audio and are unwatchable. To the movie industry, this has been a natural barrier to early piracy and driven more people to actually go to theatres.
With COVID-19, the theatre release model has become somewhat of a challenge. Despite repeated attempts by various big production movies Box Office earnings have remained low. This has pushed several companies to do what are known as simultaneous releases. This is when a movie is shown in theatres and released to platforms for renting at the same time.
At first movie companies were hesitant and early releases were met with lacklustre results. Disney’s Mulan for example was met with lacklustre reception that threatened the very strategy of simultaneous releases. Wonder Woman 1984 was a bit better in terms of earnings but it was nowhere near what the greedy industry was used to. Several movie companies pushed back the release of their movies. We are still waiting for No Time To Die for example.
But no one knows when the world will reopen or if it will ever be the same again. We keep having wave after wave and in response, lockdowns are following each successive wave. Impatient movie companies are no longer holding back. More and more movies are being released simultaneously or with shorter release windows and boy have Zimbabwean pirates been rejoicing.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen movies such as:
- Snake Eyes
- The Green Knight
- The Suicide Squad
- Jungle Cruise
- F9: The Fast Saga
- Black Widow
It seems every weekend or even every other day the pirates I know will be busy running around with flash drives sharing some newly realised movie. Which begs the question. How has this change affected the movie industry’s revenues? A number of studies have shown that while revenue for the industry is down, piracy levels haven’t changed much.
This kind of makes sense, the pirates I know who have been rejoicing have just gotten chirpier but their numbers haven’t changed. These people have never paid to watch a movie in their lives. They are not about to start now but their ranks are not swelling.