This report aims to provide an overview of the release windows systems in the EU and its possible evolution, paying particular attention to their impact on emerging VoD business practices.
In general terms, the release windows systems across the EU function according to the same principles, i.e. to find a balance between complementarity and cannibalization in view of maximising overall revenues while building sustainable business relationships. Yet these general principles are adapted to the local context, with a specific framework, different windows and various window lengths. The result in the EU is a diversity of release windows features, reflecting the long-lasting diversity of national film industries.
The study shows that a trend towards shorter theatrical windows is clearly visible and further evolutions seem inevitable, even if some stakeholders continue to oppose it. Alternative release schedules and methods - that approach the sequencing system with more flexibility - have been already tested by several companies and related to various films. Digitisation brings along increased room and potential for differentiation, flexibility and diversity. Shorter windows may benefit certain types of content in specific contexts: non-mainstream titles could in particular benefit from the added marketing impact associated with shorter windows or with a simultaneous or quasi simultaneous release e.g. in theatres and on VoD.
While the differences between each film and distribution channel will continue to be crucial to attract the audience, maintaining strict and inflexible windowing rules seems no longer to be valid in current circumstances.
For those systems that fix release windows in legislation and/or regulation, it will become more and more necessary to provide a sufficient number of derogations. The example of France where it is proposed by the Lescure report to make the current system of release windows more flexible shows that such debates are already ongoing.
However, it is important to keep in mind that release window flexibility cannot be isolated from the broader industry context. All modifications to traditional systems will have to take the sometimes divergent interests of the different stakeholders into account. While it is crucial to entice incumbent players to develop forward looking strategies, it is equally crucial to provide some time for transition. Reflection is needed on how to reconfigure revenue sharing models between the various stakeholders.
The study also noted that, from a cross-border perspective, day-and-date releases on VoD and in theatres could help spread European films in areas where they would usually not benefit from a theatrical release. This is another area where experimentation should be encouraged. However, such experiments should be part of a broader exercise in order to have a reasonable chance of success."