Warner Bros. in Talks With Theaters to Put New Films in Homes Sooner

  • Studios want an at-home option for movies still in theaters
  • ‘We’re going to do it,’ studio CEO says at investor conference
Photographer: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg

Warner Bros., one of Hollywood’s biggest movie studios, joined calls for the industry to allow new films to be released sooner for home viewing, a stand that’s led to fights with theaters operators in the past.

The studio is in talks with cinema owners to shorten the typical 90 days of exclusivity that they have over new releases, Kevin Tsujihara, chief executive officer of the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary, said at a Credit Suisse investors conference Tuesday, without providing additional details. That could allow for a new release window for home-video customers willing to pay a premium for earlier access.

“We’re having very constructive conversations with the exhibitors for the first time than we’ve had in a long time,” Tsujihara said, adding it was imperative to offer consumers more choices regardless of whether the studios reach a deal with theaters. “We’re going to do it, and we’re very focused on it.”

North American theaters have been vocal in their opposition to any erosion of the exclusivity they have over new movies, as they face competition from at-home digital distributors like Netflix Inc. Circumventing traditional box office movie-release agreements is a perennial point of contention in Hollywood, as studios struggle to replace falling DVD sales and reduce piracy.

Earlier this month, Mark Zoradi, CEO of Cinemark Holdings Inc., the third largest North American theater chain, said his company held preliminary talks with various studios about offering a window for home video releases at premium prices.

Holding Talks

While Cinemark, based in Plano, Texas, has no interest in seeing movies released for theatrical and home viewing at the same time, “We’ll certainly talk with our studio partners about potential premium video-on-demand and determine what would be advantageous to both them and us,” Zoradi said on a call with analysts.

James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox Inc., drew a rebuke from the National Association of Theatre Owners in September when he labeled the current exclusivity system “crazy” and called for changes to release windows.

In a statement, the trade group said Murdoch needed to “be careful he doesn’t undermine” the trust Fox has with its distribution partners and called his comments “self-serving.” A spokesman for NATO had no immediate comment on Tsujihara’s remarks Tuesday.

Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, also drew industry ire as he attempted to find backers for an at-home streaming service that would charge consumers a high fee to access new movies on the same day they are released in theaters.

Tsujihara said DVDs would continue to decline as digital sales of films increase.

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