• DICK WALSH's Industry Update
  • Posted on Oct 09, 2021 @ 10:45 AM PT

Despite Hurdles, 3rd Quarter 2021 Rises to 51% of 3rd Quarter 2019

The third quarter in the movie business began on Friday, 7/2 and ended on Thursday, 9/30.  We witnessed a number of significant developments during this 13-week period, with lasting impact on the industry.  Next week we will offer up our preview of the 4th quarter.  In this quarterly review, we will address the following topics:

(1) Progress on the Road to Recovery during the quarter

(2) The influence of the COVID-19 Delta Variant

(3) Shifting release schedules

(4) Studio policies regarding streaming and theatrical windows

 

THE ROAD TO RECOVERY – Q3 RESULTS

As the quarter began, momentum had been building from the disastrous beginning to the year, with Q1 2021 producing only 11% of the revenue generated during the same quarter in 2019, and Q2 2021 producing only 25% of Q2 2019.  Taken together, the first half of 2021 stood at 19% of 2019 results, leaving both studios and theatre circuits in a precarious state.  Despite this underperformance, Q3 began with some optimism that the factors that had held back moviegoing were diminishing and that a sustainable recovery was beginning to take hold.

In the U.S., nearly 80% of theatres had re-opened and the even Canada has begun to welcome back moviegoers.  Virtually every week, studios were launching a significant new title, giving long-suffering fans a reason to return to the cinema.  Vaccinations were proceeding at historic rates, and cities across the continent were dropping the COVID safety measures that had been enacted at the onset of the pandemic. Week to week comparisons with 2019 results would rise to 75% and higher, and theatres were well down the road to profitability. Happy Days are Here Again!

Weekly Industry Performance 2021 vs. 2019

Alas, this early optimism was a bit premature.  The quarter opened with a disappointing July 4th holiday weekend that produced a disappointing 41% comp to the same week in 2019.  BLACK WIDOW’s long-awaited and much-anticipated opening on 7/9 produced $109M in its first week, a new record during the pandemic era.  The weekly total for all films rose to 83% of the same week in 2019.  We are back!  No! On July 16th, SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY opened to $42M for the week and BLACK WIDOW dropped a massive 67% from its debut, leaving the overall weekly comp at 34% of 2019 figures.

Weeks 30, 31 and 32 all hovered near 50% of 2019 as OLD, JUNGLE CRUISE, and THE SUICIDE SQUAD were released but didn’t produce the box office draw that was expected.  All three films opened below expectations, and dropped steeply in their second weeks, down by 56%, 53% and 70% respectively.  Week 33 on August 20th, saw the opening of FREE GUY, which overperformed expectations with $40M for the week.  The weekly comp climbed back to 60%. Weeks 34 and 35 were sustained by FREE GUY falling only 36% in its second week and CANDYMAN opening better than expected at $29M.

Week 36 on 9/3 saw SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS blow away all industry projections, setting a new pandemic record with $110M for the week.  Most impressively, SHANG-CHI was up against a very tough comp in 2019 based on the $113M opening of IT CHAPTER 2.  Despite the competition, week 36 of 2021 rose up to 90% of the same week in 2019, also a pandemic-best performance.  Weeks 37, 38 and 39 closed out the quarter on a soft note, with the openings of MALIGNANT, CRY MACHO, COPSHOP and DEAR EVAN HANSEN all producing ho-hum results.  Despite two strong weeks during the quarter – with an 83% comp for week 28 and a 90% comp for week 36 – the comp for the quarter overall came in at only 51%.

With so much momentum and promise during the early part of the quarter why did it not continue throughout the quarter.  Three potential reasons are: the continued threat of the COVID Delta Variant, studio policies regarding streaming and theatrical windows and ever-changing release schedules.  We will discuss each factor and its possible impact on the 3rd Quarter’s results.

 

THE COVID DELTA VARIANT

At the outset of the 3rd Quarter, many had expected to see a steady recovery at the box office, fueled by the widespread rollout of vaccinations and pent-up demand to resume “normal” life.  On July 1st, 47.6% of U.S. adults had been fully vaccinated.  While the percentage rose each week, it did not climb at the rate that officials had hoped for, as some vaccination hold-outs became increasingly dug in and vocal.  By September 30th, the total number of U.S. adults fully vaccinated had only increased to 57%.

During the summer, the Delta Variant became the dominant strain of COVID-19 circulating in the U.S. The 7-day average of new COVID cases reported surged from 12,705 as measured on 7/1 to 149,747 as measured on 9/21, an 11-fold increase in the span of 12 weeks.  The polling firm Morning Consult has conducted regular surveys during the pandemic to track the comfort level of consumers with participating in various out-of-home entertainment activities. A poll in early July indicated that 55% of U.S. adults felt comfortable going back to movie theatres.  Within a few weeks in July, that number had dropped down to the mid-40’s and has remained at that level throughout the rest of the quarter.

Even vaccinations have been unable to slow Delta’s spread, with 77% of new cases occurring in those who had already been vaccinated.  Thankfully, these “breakthrough” cases have had much less severe health consequences for the infected, with the COVID death rate dropping by more than half over the period, down from 1.8% as of July 1st to 0.8% as of September 21st.  This significant drop in the effective death rate from COVID appears to have emboldened people to resume their pre-pandemic activities, including moviegoing.

One could argue persuasively that the Delta Variant slowed down what otherwise would have been a very robust recovery at the box office during the quarter.  In fact, by reaching 51% of the same period in 2019, Q3’s results were a significant achievement, demonstrating the resiliency of exhibition and the loosening grip of COVID.

 

THE SHIFTING RELEASE SCHEDULES

One of the most destabilizing factors on moviegoing during the pandemic has been the impact of studios making constant changes to their release schedules. A poster child for shifting release dates is the curious case of TOP GUN: MAVERICK. This Paramount release has at one time had all of these release dates: 7/12/19, 6/26/20, 6/24/20, 12/23/20, 7/2/21, 11/19/21, and, as of now, 5/27/22. These seven release dates demonstrate the degree of uncertainty in the marketplace over the last two years. With literally hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, Paramount is trying to select the best possible environment for its most important pictures. Some speculate that frustration over this search for a perfect release date led to a change in leadership for the studio.

While TOP GUN: MAVERICK may be the most extreme example, may key titles have cycled through three or four schedule changes.  These false starts waste marketing resources and create uncertainty with the public, and may ultimately lead to a decline in the gross potential for these movies.  At the very least, they delay revenues for exhibition, both in ticket sales as well as concessions. By pushing TOP GUN: MAVERICK back from a summer 2021 launch, Paramount took hundreds of millions of dollars off the plate for hungry exhibitors.

TitleEstimated
Lost Gross
Average
Ticket Price
Lost AttendanceConcession Per PersonLost Concession RevenueCombined
Lost Revenue
Top Gun: Maverick$200,000,000$9 22,222,222$6$133,333,333$333,333,333

 

The counter argument is that Paramount’s reset will benefit exhibitors in the end, by bringing in more money later when more people are ready to return to the movies.  However, most exhibitors would prefer to bank some money this year, when they most need it, rather than waiting for a little more money next year.

Most Significant Release Date Changes with Impact to the 3rd Quarter

AnnouncedTitleFromTo
4/9/21Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount)7/2/2111/19/21 *
4/9/21Jackass Forever (Paramount)9/3/2110/22/21 *
5/3/21Cinderella (Sony)7/16/21REMOVED
6/18/21Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (Sony)7/23/21REMOVED
6/25/21The Many Saints of Newark (Warner Bros.)9/24/2110/01/21
7/7/21The Comeback Trail (Cloud Base)7/23/21REMOVED
7/31/21Clifford the Big Red Dog (Paramount)9/21/21REMOVED
8/12/21Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Sony)9/24/2110/15/21*
* Film has made additional release date changes since this announcement.

 

There were 15 release date changes to wide releases during the quarter, resulting in as much as a half a billion dollars of lost or delayed revenues for exhibitors.  By contrast, not a single release date change was made to a wide release film during the peaceful and prosperous times of the third quarter of 2019.

 

3rd QUARTER TOP 10 – 2019 VS. 2021

Despite exhibitors’ frustrations, the studios are clearly motivated to do whatever they can at all times to maximize the profitability of the intellectual property under their control. When COVID forced exhibition to shut down in March of 2020, the studios were forced to find other ways to generate income from their inventory of completed movies.  Warner Bros. had HBO MAX to fall back on, and announced their intention to make their entire 2021 slate of films to be released day & date on HBO Max.

Disney/Fox and Paramount were also fortunate to be in the early launch stages of their own in-house streaming services. Universal would get into the game soon thereafter with Peacock.  Lacking their own platform, Sony pursued opportunities to sell off their movies to established streamers, such as Netflix.

A look at the Top 10 pictures from third quarter 2019 vs. 2021 shows that the grosses for all pictures in 2021 was just over 50% of films from the same period in 2019.  This accounts for 73% of the entire quarter’s shortfall compared to 2021.

 

STUDIO POLICIES REGARDING STREAMING AND WINDOWS

Perhaps the most important influence on the box office performance for a movie during the third quarter was whether it

was also available day & date to viewers at home.  When we compare 2021 to 2019, this was not even a factor. During 2019, the “90-day” window was holding firm and virtually all studios adhered to this industry standard.  Only Netflix and Amazon were releasing movies simultaneously in theatres and on their streaming platforms.  Very few exhibitors chose to break ranks and play those films. Over the past 18 months, studios have experimented with almost every conceivable approach, from a traditional theatrical exclusive, to simultaneous releasing to theatres and on-line, to streaming exclusive without any theatrical release.  However, even the traditional 90-day theatrical exclusive release may not be entirely dead.

 After experimenting with nearly every conceivable approach, the major studios appear to be settling back into a theatrical release for their major titles but using a much shorter exclusive window lasting between 17 and 45 days.  The box office successes of Disney’s FREE GUY and SHANG-CHI have gone a long way towards reassuring studios that they can still make plenty by leading with theatres. On September 13th, Disney announced that all their movies for the remainder of 2021 would be theatrical exclusives with a 45-day window, with the sole exception of ENCANTO which would have a 30day exclusive between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This matches the strategy Warner Bros. had previously announced for their 2022 theatrical slate.  Having the top two Hollywood studios agree on theatrical exclusives has reassured exhibitors that a return to some degree of “normalcy” is imminent.  However, the past 18 months have proven that plans for the future are always subject to change. The following chart gives the release strategy of every major as of September 29, 2021.

DistributorTheatrical WindowStreaming PlatformCost
Universal17-31 days if opening weekend does $50M+PeacockPer title decision
Warner Bros.2021 – None
2022 – 45 days
HBO MaxFree with subscription
DisneyNone through 8/19/2021
45 days after
Disney+$29.95 prior to 8/19/21
20th CenturyNone through 8/19/2021
45 days after
Disney+SAME AS DISNEY
Paramount45 daysParamount +Per title decision
SonyTraditionalNetflixPer title decision
LionsgateTraditionalStarzPer title decision

It is very difficult to measure the direct financial impact of day & date releasing on ticket sales in theatres.  While theatrical grosses are reported on a daily basis by Comscore, studios are loathe to provide specific figures on streaming results for specific titles.  In a few cases, studios have reported some figures indicating the on-line audience specific movies have drawn, but often these are self-reported statistics that come out weeks or months after the fact, and not produced by an independent third party.  Therefore, it is virtually impossible to draw conclusions about the success of any specific film online, and how much that may have taken away from its potential box office returns.

The presumption is that theatre ticket sales will be LOWER when a movie is also available for at-home viewing.  It is also safe to say that any movie will see HIGHER ticket sales when it is available in theatres exclusively.  Any conclusion about which approach produces better results for studios is far from settled. Of the three hurdles, the streaming windows protection given to theatres is the one that is still very much up in the air and the one that will have the most profound effect on their bottom lines.

SUMMARY

After dealing with the triple threat of the Delta Variant, studio release changes and increased competition from streaming, exhibitors should be pleased to have earned in Q3 2021 53% of amount that they earned during the same period in 2019.  The big question that remains is how much higher does revenue need to climb to bring exhibitors back to profitability? The view at SCREENDOLLARS is that exhibitors many exhibitors will break even once they bring in 75% of the revenue that they did in 2019.  While exhibitors of all sizes are still losing money, the rate of loss is declining and the arrows are definitely pointed in the right direction.  The fourth quarter has begun with some encouraging signs on the road to recovery, and should show marked improvement over the 11%, 25% and 53% comparables witnessed during the first three quarters of the year.  We will be back in early January with a review of what happened to close out the year.

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    3. Applicability of Arbitration Agreement.You agree that any dispute, claim, or request for relief relating in any way to your access or use of the Services, to any products sold or distributed through the Services, or to any aspect of your relationship with SCREENDOLLARS, will be resolved by binding arbitration, rather than in court, except that (1) you may assert claims or seek relief in small claims court if your claims qualify,; and (2) you or SCREENDOLLARS may seek equitable relief in court for infringement or other misuse of intellectual property rights (such as trademarks, trade dress, domain names, trade secrets, copyrights, and patents).This Arbitration Agreement shall apply, without limitation, to all disputes or claims and requests for relief that arose or were asserted before the effective date of this Agreement or any prior version of this Agreement.
    4. Arbitration Rules and Forum.The Federal Arbitration Act governs the interpretation and enforcement of this Arbitration Agreement. To begin an arbitration proceeding, you must send a letter requesting arbitration and describing your dispute or claim or request for relief to our registered agent [include name and address of registered agent here]. The arbitration will be conducted by JAMS, an established alternative dispute resolution provider.  Disputes involving claims, counterclaims, or request for relief under $250,000, not inclusive of attorneys’ fees and interest, shall be subject to JAMS’s most current version of the Streamlined Arbitration Rules and procedures available at http://www.jamsadr.com/rules-streamlined-arbitration/; all other disputes shall be subject to JAMS’s most current version of the Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures, available at http://www.jamsadr.com/rules-comprehensive-arbitration/. JAMS’s rules are also available at www.jamsadr.com or by calling JAMS at 800-352-5267.  If JAMS is not available to arbitrate, the parties will select an alternative arbitral forum.  If the arbitrator finds that you cannot afford to pay JAMS’s filing, administrative, hearing and/or other fees and cannot obtain a waiver from JAMS, we will pay them for you.  In addition, we will reimburse all such JAMS’s filing, administrative, hearing and/or other fees for disputes, claims, or requests for relief totaling less than $10,000 unless the arbitrator determines the claims are frivolous.
    5. You may choose to have the arbitration conducted by telephone, based on written submissions, or in person in the country where you live or at another mutually agreed location. Any judgment on the award rendered by the arbitrator may be entered in any court of competent jurisdiction. Authority of Arbitrator. The arbitrator shall have exclusive authority to (a) determine the scope and enforceability of this Arbitration Agreement and (b) resolve any dispute related to the interpretation, applicability, enforceability or formation of this Arbitration Agreement including, but not limited to, any assertion that all or any part of this Arbitration Agreement is void or voidable. The arbitration will decide the rights and liabilities, if any, of you and SCREENDOLLARS. The arbitration proceeding will not be consolidated with any other matters or joined with any other cases or parties. The arbitrator shall have the authority to grant motions dispositive of all or part of any claim. The arbitrator shall have the authority to award monetary damages and to grant any non-monetary remedy or relief available to an individual under applicable law, the arbitral forum’s rules, and the Agreement (including the Arbitration Agreement). The arbitrator shall issue a written award and statement of decision describing the essential findings and conclusions on which the award is based, including the calculation of any damages awarded. The arbitrator has the same authority to award relief on an individual basis that a judge in a court of law would have. The award of the arbitrator is final and binding upon you and us.
    6. Waiver of Jury Trial.YOU AND SCREENDOLLARS HEREBY WAIVE ANY CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY RIGHTS TO SUE IN COURT AND HAVE A TRIAL IN FRONT OF A JUDGE OR A JURY. You and Company are instead electing that all disputes, claims, or requests for relief shall be resolved by arbitration under this Arbitration Agreement, except as specified in Section 8.2(a) above.  An arbitrator can award on an individual basis the same damages and relief as a court and must follow this Agreement as a court would. However, there is no judge or jury in arbitration, and court review of an arbitration award is subject to very limited review.
    7. Waiver of Class or Other Non-Individualized Relief.ALL DISPUTES, CLAIMS, AND REQUESTS FOR RELIEF WITHIN THE SCOPE OF THIS ARBITRATION AGREEMENT MUST BE ARBITRATED ON AN INDIVIDUAL BASIS AND NOT ON A CLASS OR COLLECTIVE BASIS, ONLY INDIVIDUAL RELIEF IS AVAILABLE, AND CLAIMS OF MORE THAN ONE CUSTOMER OR USER CANNOT BE ARBITRATED OR CONSOLIDATED WITH THOSE OF ANY OTHER CUSTOMER OR USER. If a decision is issued stating that applicable law precludes enforcement of any of this subsection’s limitations as to a given dispute, claim, or request for relief, then such aspect must be severed from the arbitration and brought into the State or Federal Courts located in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  All other disputes, claims, or requests for relief shall be arbitrated.
    8. 30-Day Right to Opt Out.You have the right to opt out of the provisions of this Arbitration Agreement by sending written notice of your decision to opt out to: contactus@screendollars.com, within 30 days after first becoming subject to this Arbitration Agreement. Your notice must include your name and address, your SCREENDOLLARS username (if any), the email address you used to set up your SCREENDOLLARS account (if you have one), and an unequivocal statement that you want to opt out of this Arbitration Agreement. If you opt out of this Arbitration Agreement, all other parts of this Agreement will continue to apply to you. Opting out of this Arbitration Agreement has no effect on any other arbitration agreements that you may currently have, or may enter in the future, with us.
    9. Severability.Except as provided in subsection (e) above, if any part or parts of this Arbitration Agreement are found under the law to be invalid or unenforceable, then such specific part or parts shall be of no force and effect and shall be severed and the remainder of the Arbitration Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.
    10. Survival of Agreement.This Arbitration Agreement will survive the termination of your relationship with SCREENDOLLARS.
    11. Notwithstanding any provision in this Agreement to the contrary, we agree that if SCREENDOLLARS makes any future material change to this Arbitration Agreement, you may reject that change within thirty (30) You and SCREENDOLLARS acknowledge and agree that Apple, and Apple’s subsidiaries, are third-party beneficiaries of the Agreement as related to your license of the App Store Sourced Application, and that, upon your acceptance of the terms and conditions of the Agreement, Apple will have the right (and will be deemed to have accepted the right) to enforce the Agreement as related to your license of the App Store Sourced Application against you as a third-party beneficiary thereof.days of such change becoming effective by writing to us at the following address: contactus@screendollars.com.
    12. Export.The Services may be subject to U.S. export control laws and may be subject to export or import regulations in other countries. You agree not to export, reexport, or transfer, directly or indirectly, any U.S. technical data acquired from SCREENDOLLARS, or any products utilizing such data, in violation of U.S. export laws or regulations.
    13. Electronic communications.The communications between you and SCREENDOLLARS may use electronic means, whether you visit or use our Services or send e-mails to us, or whether SCREENDOLLARS posts notices on or in the Services or communicates with you via e-mail. For contractual purposes, you (a) consent to receive communications from SCREENDOLLARS in an electronic form; and (b) agree that all terms and conditions, agreements, notices, disclosures, and other communications that SCREENDOLLARS provides to you electronically satisfy any legal requirement that such communications would satisfy if it were be in a hardcopy writing. The foregoing does not affect your statutory rights, including but not limited to the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act at 15 U.S.C. section 7001 et. Seq (“E-Sign”).
    14. Governing law. Any and all controversies, disputes, demands, counts, claims or causes of action between you and SCREENDOLLARS and our employees, agents, successors, or assigns, regarding or relating to this Agreement or the Services will exclusively be governed by the internal laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, without regard to its choice of law rules and without regard to conflicts of law principles except that the arbitration provisions will be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act. The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods will not apply to this Agreement.
    15. Notice.Where SCREENDOLLARS requires that you provide an e-mail address, you are responsible for providing us with your most current e-mail address. In the event that the last e-mail address you provided to us is not valid, or for any reason is not capable of delivering to any notices required or permitted by this Agreement, our dispatch of the e-mail containing such notice will nonetheless constitute effective notice.  You may give notice to us at the address set forth in Section 8.8.  Such notice shall be deemed given when received by us by letter delivered by nationally recognized overnight delivery service or first class postage prepaid mail at that address.
    16. Entire Agreement.This Agreement, including the documents referred to herein, constitutes the entire agreement between you and us regarding the use of the Services. Our failure to exercise or enforce any right or provision of this Agreement will not operate as a waiver of such right or provision. If any provision of this Agreement is, for any reason, held to be invalid or unenforceable, the other provisions of this Agreement will be unimpaired and the invalid or unenforceable provision will be deemed modified so that it is valid and enforceable to the maximum extent permitted by law. Your relationship to SCREENDOLLARS is that of an independent contractor, and neither party is an agent or partner of the other. This Agreement, and your rights and obligations herein, may not be assigned, subcontracted, or otherwise transferred by you without SCREENDOLLARS’s prior written consent, and any attempted assignment, subcontract, or transfer in violation of the foregoing will be null and void. The terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement will be binding upon assignees.
    17. Copyright/Trademark Information.Copyright © 2020, Screendollars, LLC. All rights reserved. All trademarks, logos and service marks (“Marks”) displayed on or in the Services are our property or the property of third parties. You may not use these Marks without our prior written consent or the consent of such third party.
    18. Contact Information:SCREENDOLLARS, LLC. | 33 Miller Hill Road, Dover, MA 02030 | (978) 494-4150, contactus@screendollars.com.

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