The ‘Matilda effect’? Why streamers’ cinema windows are getting bigger

The ‘Matilda effect’? Why streamers’ cinema windows are getting bigger
'Matilda': Netflix delayed its release on its own platform because it " was doing so well in cinema", explains Williams, inset (Credit: Netflix)

Streaming giants know that releasing their films in cinema first has tangible benefits, according to Charlene Williams, group senior operations and business analyst at Pearl & Dean and member of The Media Leader‘s Future 100 Club.

For one, films need a theatrical release to be eligible for awards season, Williams told reporter Jack Benjamin in a recent episode of The Media Leader Podcast.

She also highlighted when Netflix decided to release Matilda to cinema first and found it performed so well that the company ended up delaying shifting the film to the platform. This “Matilda effect” was also evident in last summer’s Barbie.

The delay to streaming shows cinema’s power in getting that “big push” for a film, Williams explained.

Listen to an excerpt of the episode or read a transcript of the conversation below:


The Media Leader: I reported just the beginning of last year the UK box office for 2023 and we saw a continued recovery from before the pandemic: 8% growth in 2023. Finally, the box office rose above £1bn in the UK — that was for the first time since 2019, but it’s still well below pre-pandemic levels, which were more like £1.3bn, £1.4bn.

I’m curious if you think, Charlene, the box office will ever meet or surpass that pre-pandemic total? We’re at the point that people want to go back to the cinema, the habit is starting to form again, but during the pandemic, everyone had that habit of streaming everything to the home and some people just prefer to do that than going to the cinema.

I hear people still complaining about phone calls going off in cinemas or people being really rustling with their popcorn and that can bother some people.

Do you think we’ll ever surpass sort of what it was before the pandemic?

Charlene Williams: I do, yeah.

Taking 2019 out of it — we always take it out because that was Disney’s big year. Disney came with every film they could at once; they had Marvel, they had Star Trek, Toy Story, The Lion King… so that obviously helped the box office.

But it definitely will get back because even though there is streaming, streaming platforms are seeing the benefit of going to cinema first. Barbie, for example: that push to streaming keeps on getting delayed because of how well it’s done in cinema.

There’s normally a window. For Disney (don’t quote me on this!), if it doesn’t do well in cinema, you normally get it [on streaming] within 45 days. If it does really well, you get 90-120 days. And that’s how they push it for streaming.

So you are seeing, the minute it goes to cinema, they get a big push and they’re like: “Oh, actually, we’ll delay the streaming.” So [now] we’re getting the longest streaming dates.

It also helps with regards to awards. If you want to be in an awards season, the rule is you have to be a theatrical release for a minimum of five weeks before you can and that’s pushing streaming giants to actually put their films in cinema.

So you’ve got Napoleon, which was Apple TV, pushed to cinema. You’ve got Killers of the Flower Moon, which was also Apple TV, pushed to cinema. You’ve got Mean Girls — which was supposed to be on Paramount+ — again, pushed to cinema. And the reason is they are seeing the benefits like Netflix did.

I think Netflix is the best example of this business case. They did it with Matilda — that was supposed to be a Netflix film and they pushed it to cinema and even delayed how long they put it on Netflix because it was doing so well in cinema.

As great as streaming is, so many people have said they couldn’t imagine watching Napoleon in their room rather than on an Imax screen. There are some films that are just made for the cinema. You need to watch it there first before you enjoy it on your TV.

Listen to full episode below and hit ‘subscribe’ to download the episode on your favourite podcast player, as well as receive notifications about future episodes:

Podcast: Cinema’s recovery and the need for renewed DEI efforts — with Pearl & Dean’s Charlene Williams

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