NBCU CEO Jeff Shell Says, “If A Creator Wants A Traditional Theatrical Release, We’re The Best Place To Be,” Calls Peacock “Misunderstood”

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NBCUniveral chief Jeff Shell plugged the studio to talent and called theatrical releases crucial to the business. He also said movies may be more profitable post-pandemic, and that Peacock is “misunderstood” since it’s was really designed to complement existing businesses.

Theatrical is “really important to the movie business, not just as a revenue stream but because that what makes a movie a movie, the ability to create an event. The ability to wake up and see your box office, not ‘we dropped on some streaming service.’ Shell told the a virtual Credit Suisse media conference.

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(The “event” factor is also helping to keep linear television afloat, he said, especially with news and sports.)

Universal, he said, navigated “through this disruptive period in film in a way that allowed us to come out the other side with good relations with exhibition partners and a way that, if you are a creator and want a big theatrical launch … a traditional release, we’re the best place to be.” He called F9 the first “big blockbuster” post-Covid. It opens Stateside June 25 but is already pushing $300 million with its international debut, he said.

Warner Bros.’ decision to institute a blanket day-and-date release on HBO Max this year riled Hollywood. (There’s a bit of a debate on right now over whether lower than expected opening weekend grosses for In The Heights were due at least in part to its streaming availability.)

In the case of PVOD, Shell said, it’s “been a real success story for us” and that “early data” shows it doesn’t seem to cannibalize either the theatrical or home entertainment windows. “We are hitting a new market. PVOD is very profitable to a movie studio. You make a higher split. Right now it appears to be an additive revenue stream for us and for others.”

Universal was a pioneer in putting Trolls World Tour on PVOD last summer early in the pandemic and the first to ink a deal for shorter widows with AMC Entertainment. Film economics remain in flux, Shell acknowledged, but reiterated he thinks the old windows model made no sense. “We don’t know how this is going to evolve … but windows will certainly be shorter and more flexible than they have in the past.”

He think the movie business will become more profitable with theatrical plus “different, new windows.”

“I personally think the box office for big movies could be the same or close to the same, but that will change as you go down the chain.”

“I sympathize with people like you trying to do models because the economics are changing,” he told Credit Suisse media and entertainment analyst Doug Mitchelson. Studios are having same problem. “We are trying to maximize our cash flow at the bottom line and things are changing at the top line.”

Asked about Comcast’s sitting out the recent media M&A frenzy, he said it’s a “curious question for a company our size” whether it’s able to compete in deals. He’s been at parent Comcast for 17 years and “there has not been one instance that we did not have the scale in any business [to[ do something. We might not have wanted to do something.”

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