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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Schell says movie business is ‘better’ with new release model

NBC CEO Jeff Shell arrives at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 6, 2021 in Sun Valley, Idaho. After a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s richest and most powerful business people from media, finance and technology will gather at the Sun Valley Resort for an exclusive week-long conference.

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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Schell said Tuesday that the company’s film business is doing well on a hybrid model, with some films simultaneously releasing in theaters and streaming services while others wait to be made available to viewers at home.

In an interview with CNBC’s David Faber on Tuesday, Shell said the pandemic-inspired film release model is “attracting some of the best filmmakers.”

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In the past, studios typically made films available exclusively in theaters before releasing them to home viewers, including on streaming services. That changed when cinemas closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, causing some companies to release films directly on streaming services for a time.

Shell said that moving away from the traditional film release model, known as the film screening scheme, is having a positive impact on both the film and streaming businesses.

“This window design, combined with the fact that streamers really want movies and movies are the driving platforms, has made the movie business economically better in my opinion,” Schell said.

The change in the film distribution model during the pandemic initially caused some controversy among media companies. Some have evaluated film releases directly on streaming services on a case-by-case basis, which Shell says NBCUniversal continues to do. Others, like Warner Bros., released many of their biggest films on the HBO Max streaming service and in theaters at the same time.

“We have responded by putting more money into the business,” Shell said on Tuesday.

In many cases, the window to deliver a movie to a streaming or premium video-on-demand service can now be as short as 45 days, cutting the previous window in half.

Comcast NBCUniversal continues to adapt its approach to each film. Some films, such as No, are released in theaters before being available exclusively on Peacock’s streaming service for a while. Others, like the latest installment in the Halloween movie franchise, release in theaters and on the streaming service at the same time.

“We make twice as many films as our closest competitors, and we buy all that content and move it to Peacock to build a streaming service,” Schell said.

Peacock now has 15 million paying subscribers and 30 million active accounts, Shell said on Tuesday. Much of the subscriber growth is driven by content such as the company’s sports and movie offerings, he said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns CNBC.


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