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Amazon Honoring Theatrical Window for Original Movies

15 Apr, 2016 By: Erik Gruenwedel

E-commerce pioneer, unlike Netflix, embraces industry release window status-quo

In a move designed to generate industrywide support, Amazon said it would honor the traditional theatrical window for its original feature films. The e-commerce behemoth made the announcement April 14 at the theatrical CinemaCon confab in Las Vegas.

A relative newcomer to theatrical releases, Amazon Studios last year bowed its first feature film — Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed urban drama Chi-Raq — with an abbreviated box office run followed by global (U.S., Germany, Austria, U.K., Japan) streaming access to its millions of Prime subscribers. The strategy backfired as theater groups largely passed screening the film, resulting in a domestic box office gross of just $2.65 million.

It also aligned Amazon Studios with Netflix’s controversial strategy of simultaneous theatrical/streaming access to original movies. COO Ted Sarandos, who has unapologetically derided the theatrical window as antiquated in an on-demand ecosystem, has said the streaming pioneer’s half-hearted attempt releasing movies such as Beasts of No Nation theatrically is done largely to generate industry award recognition and for marketing.

Thus, despite widespread critical acclaim, No Nation received no Oscar nominations.

So there stood Amazon Studios chief Roy Price and Bob Berney, former CEO of indie distributor Picturehouse and Amazon Studios' new marketing chief, on separate stages telling theater operators the world’s largest e-commerce retailer had their backs.

“All the films we are acquiring and making will be released theatrically with aggressive marketing campaigns intent on bringing customers to your theaters,” Berney told attendees, adding jokingly, “We will be experimenting with drone delivery for popcorn too.”

Amazon’s next theatrical release is horror film The Neon Demon, starring Elle Fanning and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), and Manchester by the Sea, a coveted Sundance Film Festival entry starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler, that resulted in a rights bidding war.

Future Amazon releases include Woody Allen’s Cafe Society (which will be distributed theatrically by Lionsgate), Jane Austen-themed Love & Friendship; Wiener Dog; documentary Gimme Danger about Iggy Pop’s backup band; and Paterson, about an eclectic city bus driver played by Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

“Amazon wants to be the home to Academy Award-winning content because it knows that will add subscribers, and that's vital to its investors,” wrote a longtime industry observer who blogs online as The Entertainment Oracle.

“Netflix is still going to be a force to be reckoned with, but Amazon just gained a powerful advantage that will make this awards race a lot closer and more interesting to watch.”


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