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Movie theaters will come out 'a winner' post-COVID: Analyst

Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore Senior Media Analyst joins Yahoo Finance’s Alexandra Canal and the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss what to expect with the Summer 2021 box office.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, let's continue to broaden out that discussion here, Allie, with our next guest, Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore senior media analyst. He's wearing a tie, and he joins us now. Looking good, Paul, here on a Friday. When we talk about the expectations, you know, it's tough to tease out whether or not people not going to the theater in this recovery was due to either health concerns or just because we didn't have those big titles that anyone actually wanted to go see. But now we do. So what are the expectations for this big Memorial Day weekend?

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: Well, expectations are really high. I mean, as Allie said, this is the first true test of the marketplace, given that prior to this, we had some big movies, but they really weren't summer style big movies that were supposed to go last year. Obviously, couldn't. I think with "A Quiet Place, Part Two," and "Cruella" opening, it's in a real-time experiment. We're going to see how a movie does that's available only in theaters, "A Quiet Place 2" for 45 days, and "Cruella," which is available on Disney Premium Plus around $30 today and also in the movie theater.

So this is a key and pivotal weekend for the movie theater industry. We're at the highest number of theaters at around over 4,100 right now. And we're at 72% of theaters open. That's the biggest percentage and number of theaters since theaters shut down on March 20, 2020. So all the puzzle pieces are in place, I think, to have a really great weekend.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And Paul, I know you're very bullish on the theatrical experience, but how do you remind people of that? How do you convince them to come back after all of this time, they've been sitting on their couch? Even Best Buy in their earnings report yesterday, they've said that they've seen consumers purchase big screen TVs, setting up their at-home theater experience. So, you know, we've seen incentives for the vaccine. I mean, could we see incentives from cinemas, potentially free popcorn or maybe a buy one get one offering? What do you think it's going to take to get people to come back?

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: Well, I think that's really important, is to create an experience for people in the theater that makes them want to come back and gives them a very strong value proposition. So yeah, discounting popcorn and that kind of thing might be a good way to go, or other incentives, maybe some innovative things, like, on opening day, to have a virtual chat with one of the stars of a big movie or something like that. But I think right now, all movie theaters have to do is open their doors. Because people-- yes, we have all this great content at home from our couch one click away.

But the movie theater experience is completely singular and different than anything else. And I think we're seeing a pent-up demand manifesting itself in people going out to restaurants. Restaurants are crowded right now. It's because, yes, it's great to eat out of a box at home, but people really do want to go out. And I think the movie theater experience is going to hold even more value for people now it's even more of a curated, bespoke experience.

So I think that's going to play very well for the industry, but all eyes are on Memorial Weekend. We're hoping this is a big one. We have two big movies. There's no dog ate my homework excuse this weekend, other than some capacity limits, of course. And we're at 72% of theaters open. But I'm looking for a big weekend. And we're in it right now. We'll find out all throughout the weekend.

AKIKO FUJITA: Paul, you mentioned the two movies out this weekend. Obviously, looking at different gauges to see, you know, where the audience is and their appetite to go back to the theaters or watch movies at home. What do you think the threshold is for studios? I mean, "Cruella," to me, is an interesting one because you do have both options. You know, if Disney Plus comes back and say the demand was stronger on the Premium access side because families wanted to stay at home and watch, then do they sort of extend that window in terms of a release on both the theater side, as well as the streaming side?

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: Well, that's a great question because it used to be set it and forget it, right? You would just put a movie in theaters, 90-day window. Now, every movie like a "Cruella," like "A Quiet Place 2," is unique. And by dynamic windowing, that's exactly what it is, meaning it changes with each piece of content. It used to be something that was a slippery slope for theaters. They didn't want to shorten the window. But shortening windows, I think, is not going to hurt theaters. I think a 45-day window is totally reasonable.

And also, I think people are going to want to watch a lot of content in theaters, but also at home. I think the big screen and the small screen-- I say it all the time-- they're complementary and additive. I don't think they're adversarial. People are going to go-- but people have that freedom of choice to see whatever they want on whatever platform. And that's great. But there's just nothing like that movie theater. But I think studios are going to really look at what is the best path for their movies. And everyone will be looking at this weekend because we have a real-time test of what's going to happen with a day and date streaming movie that goes theaters and streaming on the same day and a theatrical first release in "A Quiet Place 2." So two great tests of the marketplace.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And Paul, I just want to quickly get your thoughts on what we heard from the Oscars yesterday. They are, once again, going to be allowing streaming films to be eligible. We talked about this before. You said you thought that wasn't going to last. But now do we think the Academy is fully embracing streaming?

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: Well, I think so, I mean, if that really indicates a view by the Academy that all movies are fair game to be nominated, right? But I still feel like when you think about the Oscars, it's about the big screen and that big screen canvas. So I personally really-- I mean, I love streaming. Don't get me wrong. Some of the best content in the world is on streaming. But to me, the Academy Awards are about honoring those big screen films, those big screen experiences.

But it's a new world now. Things are changing. Many dynamics of the marketplace and formerly held traditional modes of business have changed and have been accelerated. Those conversations and the actual enacting of those new modes of business are happening right now. That was all accelerated by the pandemic. So I think almost anything's fair game, a lot of changes happening. But the movie theater is going to be a constant, as it's always been, coming out of every challenge that's come its way and really coming out a winner. But a lot of lessons to be learned here on--

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, for sure.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: --as far as movie theaters and studios in this new world.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and we're going to get a lot of answers to questions this long weekend. But we'll see how the films--

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: That's right.

ZACK GUZMAN: --do at the box office. Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore senior media analyst, I appreciate you taking the time. And our thanks, of course, to Yahoo Finance's Allie Canal as--