London (CNN Business)Cineworld Group has some big news for movie buffs: Its theaters will get to screen Warner Bros. movies again before they stream, starting next year.
The world’s second largest cinema operator said Tuesday that it has signed a multi-year deal to screen the studio’s movies in the United States for 45 days before they are released for streaming. In the United Kingdom, Cineworld has agreed a 31-day window of theatrical exclusivity, with an option to extend that to 45 days in some cases.
“This agreement shows the studio’s commitment to the theatrical business,” Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said.
Warner Bros., the world’s second largest movie studio, made the controversial decision in December to stream all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max at the same time as they hit theaters, reasoning that most US theaters will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout this year.
The agreement with Cineworld takes effect in 2022. Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia.
Cineworld also said it will begin to reopen its Regal theaters in the United States next month.
The company said in a statement that a limited number of Regal theaters will screen the Warner Bros. film “Godzilla vs. Kong” starting on April 2. More theaters will open on April 16 with the studio’s “Mortal Kombat,” it added.
Cineworld also plans to reopen in the United Kingdom in May when lockdown restrictions ease.
“We have long awaited this moment when we can welcome audiences back to our Regal theatres,” Greidinger said in the statement. “With capacity restrictions expanding to 50% or more across most US states, we will be able to operate profitably in our biggest markets,” he added.
While the Warner Bros. deal with Cineworld will eventually restore some exclusivity to movie theaters, it also underscores how the pandemic has accelerated changes to the relationship between Hollywood studios and cinemas. A decade ago, theaters enjoyed exclusive access to the latest movies for around six months. That has shortened to around three to four months in recent years and is now shrinking further.
If consumers don’t have to wait as long to watch a movie at home, there’s a greater chance that they will skip cinemas altogether. Representatives for WarnerMedia and Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
When Cineworld suspended operations at all of its theaters in the United States and the United Kingdom in October, it cited a lack of blockbuster films that are necessary to draw customers to cinemas.
The pandemic meant that the release of more than a dozen major films — including “Black Widow,” “Tenet” and “Wonder Woman 1984” — was either delayed or skipped theaters altogether and went digital, as in the case of Disney’s “Mulan.”
Last week, AMC said that 99% of its US theaters will be open by the end of this month. After closing all of its locations a year ago, it has been gradually reopening cinemas in the country since August.
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