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Simultaneous release

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A simultaneous release is the release of a film on multiple platforms (most commonly theatrical and home video), either day-and-date or in very close proximity to each other — as opposed to the industry standard of exclusivity "windows" for each major platform (which typically begin with a theatrical release).

The concept was used by several independent films released in the 2000s. In the mid-2010s, the subscription streaming service Netflix began to perform simultaneous releases of its feature films, by means of a limited theatrical release, paired with day-and-date international availability of the film as part of the Netflix service. As of Roma in 2018, Netflix began a practice of giving its films a three-week limited release before they become available on the service.

Due to their disruptive nature, simultaneous releases have faced mixed reactions from the industry, with advocates considering them a means of catering to consumer choice and improving the accessibility of film, and critics arguing that they dilute box office revenue by requiring cinemas to compete with premature availability of a film on home video, and are detrimental to the traditional movie-going experience. Most major cinema chains require films have an exclusive theatrical window of a minimum length, so films that pursue a simultaneous release or shorter window are typically screened at independent and art house cinemas. Since 2014, two films by major film studiosThe Interview and Trolls World Tour—have resorted to simultaneous releases via cinemas and digital rentals due to unforeseen circumstances inhibiting a wide theatrical release.


Typically, the release of a film is governed by staggered exclusivity "windows" of specific lengths, to prevent releases of a film on different platforms from cannibalizing each other.[1][2][3] These windows are typically enforced by the industry; major cinema chains will typically refuse to screen films that do not adhere to a minimum 74-day window before digital sell-through, and there is usually a 90-day window before they are offered on home video.[4][3][5][6]

By the 2000s, improving home cinema technology such as DVD and the growth of piracy gave studios an incentive to release films on home video sooner; the average amount of time between a theatrical and home release of a film shrunk from as long as six months, to as little as four.[3] In 2005, Disney CEO Bob Iger suggested that simultaneous releases of films at theaters and on DVD could help to counter piracy, going as far as suggesting that DVDs could be sold directly at the theater (providing an additional source of revenue to their owners).[7][3] Other perceived advantages of such a model include only needing to perform one marketing campaign, which can be beneficial for studios with lower budgets.[8]

Notable examples

In 2005, British distributor Dogwoof experimented with the concept for its July 25 release EMR, with a theatrical release, a DVD, and digital purchase in partnership with British ISP Tiscali.[9]

The January 2006 release of Steven Soderbergh's Bubble was one of the first high-profile examples of a simultaneous and "end-to-end" film release. Bubble was financed by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner through their studio 2929 Productions, which screened the film via their art house chain Landmark Theatres, and distributed the film on DVD. The film was also given airings on Cuban's HDNet and HDNet Movies cable networks. 2929 offered a 1% cut of revenue from DVD sales to cinemas who wanted to screen the film. Due to resistance over the model, major chains declined to screen Bubble.[8]

In March, The Road to Guantánamo premiered on the British television network Channel 4 (who commissioned the film), and was released in selected theaters and on home media the following day. Andrew Eaton, co-founder of the film's distributor Revolution Films, explained that "with a film like this that's starting with what would traditionally be the last outlet—a television broadcast—we thought it would be better to go with everything else at once."[10]

In 2014, the wide release of the film The Interview was cancelled by Sony Pictures, after multiple chains pulled the film due to terrorist threats by a group that had also hacked Sony Pictures' internal servers, and was believed to have ties to North Korea (whose regime is heavily-satirized in the film).[11] Sony elected to instead offer the film for digital purchase on December 24, coupled with a limited theatrical release the next day, and streaming online for a limited time.[12][13][14]

In 2015, the subscription streaming service Netflix began to acquire feature films, such as Beasts of No Nation. The film was distributed by Bleecker Street in a limited release to ensure award eligibility (the Academy Awards require films to have been screened in Los Angeles for a week with at least three showings per-day, in order to be eligible for nomination. They do not mandate theatrical exclusivity or bar simultaneous releases),[15][16] and released on Netflix's streaming service internationally day-and-date.[17][18] Since Roma in 2018, Netflix has given its feature films a limited, three-week release prior to their debut on the service.[19][20] Netflix has continued to face resistance for its use of a shorter window; Martin Scorsese's The Irishman relied on independent and art house cinemas for theatrical runs, peaking at 500 cinemas in the United States (which IndieWire acknowledged as being "close to the maximum number" it could screen the film in without involvement from major chains).[21][22] Two cinema chains offered a compromise of only requiring 60 days' exclusivity, but Netflix could not reach an agreement.[23][24][25]

The competing service Amazon Prime Video (via Amazon Studios), by contrast, largely followed the industry standard 90-day window[26] until 2019, when it began to reduce its films' theatrical runs in order to make them available to subscribers sooner.[27]

The 2020 onset of the coronavirus pandemic in North America has led to closures of cinemas due to guidance against large public gatherings. On March 16, DreamWorks Animation announced that its film Trolls World Tour would be given a simultaneous release as a digital rental on April 10, as part of a larger announcement that parent company Universal Pictures would also offer rentals early for several recent films still in theaters (including Emma, The Hunt, and The Invisible Man).[28]


Advocates of simultaneous releases have felt that they help to promote consumer choice, by allowing viewers to choose how and when they want to watch a film.[5][29] Netflix stated its model "[provides] access for people who can't always afford, or live in towns without, theaters. Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time. Giving filmmakers more ways to share art. These things are not mutually exclusive."[29] In April 2019, Steven Spielberg similarly stated that "everyone should have access to great stories", and that they should be able to "find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them".[30][31]

Film industry figures have argued that simultaneous releases can dilute box office revenue and detract from the communal experience of movie-going.[2][3][32] Following the announcement of Bubble's simultaneous release, M. Night Shyamalan stated that the distributor's plans were "heartless and soulless and disrespectful", and argued that cable and internet companies needed to "wait their turn".[33][34] Major cinema chains often refuse to carry films that do not adhere to an industry-standard exclusivity window, which can reduce a film's ability to reach a wider audience.[3][5]

In 2018, the Cannes Film Festival instituted a rule requiring all films screened to have a scheduled theatrical release in the country. Under French law at the time, theatrically-released films were prohibited from being distributed on subscription video on demand services until three years after their original release. At the time, there was a proposal to shorten this to 15 months, if the service agrees to pay levies and perform investments in domestic productions.[35][36] The move came following criticism of Netflix's submissions at the 2017 festival, which raised questions over whether it was appropriate to exhibit a film intended for a simultaneous release at a festival devoted to showcasing theatrical film.[37][38][39]

Netflix's day-and-date streaming of On My Skin (2018) upon its theatrical release in Italy was widely-criticized by the local film industry, who felt that Netflix's use of the publicly-funded Venice Film Festival to promote its service and content (including On My Skin and Golden Lion winner Roma) was detrimental to Italian and European film. In November 2018, Italy's Minister of Culture Alberto Bonisoli announced that the industry's 105-day window between theatrical and streaming releases of a film (usually enforced via gentleman's agreement) would be enshrined in law.[40][35]

Since 2019, the Toronto International Film Festival has been restricted from scheduling films submitted by streaming services at the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto (the main venue of the event), due to theatrical windowing requirements enforced by its owner Cineplex Entertainment.[41]


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