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Warner Bros. Chief: Studio Is Pushing Forward With Offering Early Access to Movies

Warner Bros. is plunging ahead with its plans to offer earlier access to new film releases, with studio chief Kevin Tsujihara expressing confidence that some theater owners will eventually embrace the plan.

“We’re making a lot of progress,” Tsujihara said during a call with analysts on Wednesday, adding, “We’re aggressively working with exhibitors to talk about models that will grow the market instead of cannibalizing the market.”

The Warner Bros. head said that “part of the reason that’s driving this is consumers and the economics of the film business.”

The studio chief said that the movie business has become dominated by major tentpole releases featuring comic book heroes, CGI monsters, and animated adventures. That’s not leaving a lot of room for other genres that might appeal to different age groups and demographics.

“The middle of the market in the theatrical business has gotten extremely tough,” he noted, arguing that offering some movies in homes earlier would “change the economics of adult dramas.”

Warner Bros. isn’t the only studio pushing to offer films in the home roughly two weeks after they open in theaters. Universal is also exploring a different distribution model, and AMC and other exhibition chains have been involved in negotiations. Tsujihara didn’t offer specifics, but sources have told Variety that under one scenario, films could rent for $50 some 17 days after they open in theaters, and would be available for 48 hours. Studios would give participating theater chains a percentage of their earnings. Apple’s iTunes service is also reportedly pushing for a model that would let the offer films sooner.

Currently, most major studio movies have an exclusive theatrical window of roughly 90 days before they hit home entertainment platforms. In the past, theater owners have balked at any attempt to shorten the period of time between when a film debuts on the big screen and when it is made available to rent or purchase. They maintain it will hurt the box office if people believe they don’t have to wait as long to see a movie from the comfort of their living room.

Tsujihara sees things differently.

“It’s about giving consumers what they want,” he said. “If we don’t give it to them, they’re going to go to pirated versions.”

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