To make sense of all that has transpired in 2020 and what it portends for the media and entertainment sectors going forward, Variety spoke with a cross section of industry leaders about the broad theme of change. For more, click here.
At 7 p.m. Los Angeles time on March 11, the day the country began to shut down because of the coronavirus, my team and I were doing a budget presentation to Tokyo for the start of our fiscal year. We did it this time from Culver City via Microsoft Teams because there were already travel restrictions between the U.S. and Japan.
During the time we made our hourlong presentation, the NBA shut down its season, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they had COVID and the president banned flights from China into the United States. All of this while we were making the presentation. When we were finished, I looked at the executives in Tokyo and added, “And …. everything we just told you is not going to happen.”
One thing that immediately stood out to me as we went into the shutdown was how quickly all of our people jumped in and got us up and running to work remotely. We’ve all reflected on how much harder it would have been had this pandemic happened 10 years ago. We would not have been able to function at the high level we are now because the technology we’re using now wasn’t available 10 years ago.
The pandemic is adding to the tremendous upheaval that we’re already facing in the business. The hardships from COVID-19 are accelerating the changes in the theatrical windows and the erosion of the traditional linear television bundle. We are proud of being the only studio in the business that didn’t do massive layoffs this year. We have made the hard decisions on restructurings over the past few years because we needed to reflect how our customers are operating.
I think you are going to see theatrical windows change to give people a lot more flexibility. The time between the theatrical and home entertainment window for some films may be as short as 30 days, and for some it may be longer than 90 days. In 2017 when we had “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” in theaters, it hung in there after the Christmas holiday so we pushed back our home entertainment window. I think there will be a lot of questions about Warner Bros.’ decision to go day-and-date on HBO Max with its 2021 slate.
We think the COVID environment is going to be up and down through Christmas. By late January, when the first vaccines get distributed and the infection rates start to slow down, we think you’ll see some seedlings of optimism. In February and March if things continue to evolve in a positive way, I think in April and May you’ll see theaters start to reopen — with masks and with social distancing. A thousand crazy things could happen between now and then. But we see things starting to open up in the spring and summer. We think you’re going to see a blockbuster movie every week in theaters for 18 months. We think consumers will be in theaters.
It’s good to see that movies are doing well in China now. The animated movie “Demon Slayer” just became the second-highest box office grosser in the history of Japanese theaters. Our Funimation business will be distributing that film in the U.S. early next year.
I’ve been reading a lot about how the 1918 pandemic played out for the country and for Hollywood. In that time, two years of pandemic conditions were followed by the roaring 1920s. I’m hoping we will see a version of the roaring ’20s here again!
As told to Cynthia Littleton