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Coming To A Theater Near You (But Not For Long)

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Jeremy Bishop Via Unsplash
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In the movie business, they are called windows, and they’re really important.

And they don’t have anything to do with a big piece of glass in some studio executive’s fancy office.

Instead, windows define how long a movie must play in a theater before it is released on a digital platform. Typically, exhibitors insisted that a movie’s theatrical release come about two and half months before its premiere on a streaming service or video-on-demand site. If a distributor planned to rush a movie from theaters to a digital platform -- which has been the business model for Netflix films -- they were turned away.

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But with thousands of theaters padlocked and studios postponing the release of their big films, the rules -- and the length of the theatrical window -- are changing fast.

This week, the nation’s third-biggest chain, Cinemark, has shortened that window to as little as two and a half weeks. Cinemark’s deal with Universal Pictures follows a similar agreement between the studio and the biggest exhibitor, AMC.

The theater chains are expected to share in some of the digital proceeds from Universal’s releases, which includes an upcoming “Croods” sequel.

But one Wall Street analyst says such pacts could have a lasting impact on moviegoing.

"If consumers are trained to wait only a few weeks to watch the movie at home, we worry that the near-term impact on attendance can be more substantial and consumers will continue to opt to watch more non-blockbuster films in their homes in the long run," Robert Fishman, an analyst at MoffettNathanson, wrote in a report about Cinemark’s deal with Universal.

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Thing is, theater owners might have little choice: Either draft a compromise like this, or draft a bankruptcy filing.

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