Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson has been playing nice with national exhibitors ever since he tried to make "Tower Heist" available on VOD three weeks after the theatrical opening back in 2011. The exhibitors pushed back, and Fogelson backed off--for the moment.
But he and other studios have been practicing back seat diplomacy ever since in order to try and come to some middle ground with exhibitors, as studios try to recover from declining DVD sales and consumers demand what they want wherever and whenever they want it.
The theaters are hanging tough, but it looks like there may be some movement. For one thing the debate came out in the open at my CinemaCon “Meeting the Expectations of Today’s Savvy Moviegoer” 2.0 panel Wednesday. Fogelson carefully stated that theater owners should consider accepting shorter windows with VOD offered at a high price point, but "I don’t know what the answer is.”
He used NBC's Olympics as an example of making live programming available to audiences on multiple platforms while still building interest in seeing later premium primetime programming, which scored higher ratings than ever.
“We need to jointly think of a way to grow the pie," agreed Carmike Cinemas CEO David Passman, who argued that 3-D reissues offered day and date with no impact on theatrical was not germain to the argument--that content was pre-established. The point is to offer moviegoers something new without any other competition.
Facebook executive Matt Jacobson offered to host a summit where all the studio chiefs and theater owners could brainstorm and hash out their issues. But NATO chief John Fithian poo-pooed that possibility later that day, reminding me that the lawyers would shut everything down on anti-trust collusion grounds. (More on that panel later.)
The day before, Fogelson had unveiled Universal's 2013 slate, including 20 minutes of Illumination's 3-D "Despicable Me 2" (July 3) which looks like another winner for all age groups, starring Steve Carell as Gru, his cute daughters and minions and new love interest Kristen Wiig and villain Al Pacino.
He also introduced footage from "RIPD," Robert Schwenke's 3-D action comedy along the lines of "48 HRS." meets "Men in Black" starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds (July 19); actioner "Two Guns" (August 2) starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as two undercover rival cops, co-starring Bill Paxton and Paula Patton, "Kick-Ass 2" (August 16), which ups the wattage with the original cast returning and Matthew Vaughn in producer mode,
Also in the pipeline are "The
Purge," a Jason Blum horror vehicle, Vin Diesel in "Riddick," Formula 1 drama "Rush" from Ron Howard, "About Time" from Richard Curtis, the return of the full cast from "The Best Man" for the sequel "Holiday" and the long-delayed period martial arts actioner "47 Ronin"
starring Keanu Reeves for Christmas.
Fogelson has adopted a different strategy from the other studios because he has not inherited multiple franchises to rely on. That partly explains why he sends his movies into the marketplace all year long, a strategy that he thinks other studios could benefit from as well, he said on my panel. “There are very few reasons why almost any film can’t open any weekend,” he said.
Universal does have the multi-ethnic “Fast and Furious” series. The last two with Justin Lin at the helm opened in April with record weekends above $70 million and $85 million each. Number 5 scored $625 million worldwide. 33% of its domestic audience was Hispanic, Fogelson said. The studio showed footage from "Fast and Furious 6" (May 24) including an exhilarating high-speed often elevated highway chase sequence with multiple cars and a tank commandeered by newbie villain Luke Evans and returning Michelle Rodriguez, that was stunning. There's also a memorable fight between Rodriguez and Gina Carano. Onstage, "Furious" vets Diesel and Paul Walker expressed the family feeling that makes them give their utmost to this project as the ensemble watch each others' backs.
In other words, much like Screen Gems' "Resident Evil" series, when a team commits long term to making a series great, it can be a gift that keeps on giving. "Fast and Furious 7" will open July 11, 2014.