Temporal Dynamics of Global Film Distribution: Release Delay and Theatrical Availability

Jul 7, 2021
International Conference on Cultural Economics (ACEI), online


This paper is concerned with the global distribution of films screened in cinemas. We use a big data set containing theatrical screening records for 40 countries to test whether release delay influences film supply represented by the level of screenings within importing countries. As such, the study tests how international release delay affects a film’s foreign theatrical availability, taking into consideration differences in film types and chosen international distribution strategies.

Despite the advent of digital distribution, the slow stagger of films into different markets persists. Film releases lag due to several reasons, including national variations in holidays and seasons, locally factored “dump months”, domestic awards windows, the relative likelihood of piracy, as well as a lack of available screens. There is, however, risk with continuing spatial and temporal market segmentation. For instance, literature showing that release delay is detrimental to foreign supply and demand include Elberse and Eliashberg (2003) and Clement et al. (2014) who have confirmed that longer lags reduce the number of foreign screens allocated to a film. Other research has found that duration in foreign theatres (McKenzie 2009) and foreign earnings (Griffith et al. 2014; Moon & Song 2015) are lower as a result of increased delay duration. Previous explanations given for distribution delays, such as technical and economic impediments of scale, no longer make sense under widespread digitisation. In fact, the savings on print and advertising costs alone would indicate there is a considerable upside to near day-and-date releasing.

This paper uses a granular measurement of a film’s foreign theatrical availability captured in the number of screenings it receives in each importing country. We also consider possible variation in the effect of delay across film types and distribution strategies, arguing that its generally negative impact might differ from film to film. For instance, the lag between international markets may allow independent films to build a stronger word of mouth, resulting in a more positive theatrical exposure.

The discussion in this paper is informed by a large dataset of global film screenings from the Kinomatics Project (Kinomatics n.d.). Its inclusive nature allows us to capture a rich sample of all films screened at the cinema regardless of their origin and box office. The sub-sample used in this study includes over 130m theatrical screening records from 40 countries comprising some of the world’s largest cinema markets including the United States, France, and Germany, as well as emergent cinema markets such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and South Africa. The dataset tracks theatrical runs of 3,343 feature films produced in 122 origin countries and released internationally in 2013, amounting to 18,142 film-country observations.

The findings from this paper contribute to the scholarly debate on the temporal aspect of global film circulation and provide industry implications regarding the optimal international release strategies for geo-politically diverse film content.


Clement, M., Wu, S., & Fischer, M. (2014). Empirical generalizations of demand and supply dynamics for movies. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 31(2), 207–223.

Elberse, A., & Eliashberg, J. (2003). Demand and supply dynamics for sequentially released products in international markets: The case of motion pictures. Marketing Science, 22(3), 329–354.

Griffith, D. A., Yalcinkaya, G., & Rubera, G. (2014). Country-level performance of new experience products in a global rollout: The moderating effects of economic wealth and national culture. Journal of International Marketing, 22(4), 1–20.

Kinomatics. (n.d.). What is Kinomatics. http://kinomatics.com/about/what-iskinomatics/. Accessed 30 January 2020.

McKenzie, J. (2009). Revealed word-of-mouth demand and adaptive supply: Survival of motion pictures at the Australian box office. Journal of Cultural Economics, 33(4), 279–299.

Moon, S., & Song, R. (2015). The roles of cultural elements in international retailing of cultural products: An application to the motion picture industry. Journal of Retailing, 91(1), 154–170.