The Zimbabwean Perspective

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Lifestyle Tech

Understanding movie and series distribution: when they release, and where and how you can watch them.

Before you roll your eyes about this some of you are asking when Avengers Endgame will play on DSTV

So much to watch, so much confusion

April seems like it’s going to be one of the biggest release months for movies and series this year, with Game of Thrones final season coming out in only three days and Avengers Endgame already being sold out for it’s premier date in all Ster-Kinekor Zimbabwe cinemas(not a common thing people). To put it simply, a lot of people are going to be watching some of their most anticipated content for the next month or so. But they are unfortunately a lot of common misconceptions among people for how, when , and where our favourite movies and TV shows are released. For example, why is a certain movie only available in cinemas but not online for a while? Why can’t I get certain shows on services like DSTV? Speaking of DSTV, how does that BoxOffice thing really work? Not to mention streaming services like Netflix and their own movies and series. It can get a little confusing when you come to think of it, especially when all you want to do is watch what you want when you want it, but thankfully we’ll give you a handy little guide to understanding how best you can find all the things you wish to watch.


Movies(Theatrical/Cinema releases)

Here’s the simple version, no matter what someone tells you, you won’t get an HD version of a movie somewhere else the same day it releases in theaters

Movies use what is honestly one of the most straight forward distribution models, but I guess not everyone is aware of it due to people often asking about a movie up to three months before or after it’s release. And that’s the key part: the release Date. The way most movies are distributed is that they get released in first cinemas for a period of up to three or four months. This means for that amount of time you probably can’t find them anywhere else, not legally anyway. And even if you resort to using pirated copies, those will likely the bootlegged versions where someone would have recorded them with a camera or smartphone in a cinema(which by now we should all be letting go of guys, I mean come on you don’t even enjoy the movie as much that way). After this the movie will then be released to watch in homes, in the form of digital distribution and Blu-ray/DVD releases that have their own dates. Depending on the movie these dates can be the same one , or the DVD/Blu-ray release date can be a week or so after the digital release date, which is when the movies will be available to buy on Services like iTunes, Google Play movies or the Microsoft store (This is also usually when HD versions of the movies will be available on not-so-legitimate piracy sites). The DVD and Blu-ray releases also tend to be later just because of the logistics of releasing millions of copies of a disks all over different countries as well. The DVD release date is usually when it’s available on services like DSTV box office as well. And add at least another four to six months until you can find it on DSTV premium channels and most streaming services like Netflix too. So simply put, every time a new movie comes out, the first thing you should check is it’s release date. Ster-Kinekor cinemas do a pretty amazing job of following international release dates, sometimes even screening a movie before the American release date. So as long as you want to watch a brand-new movie, you’re stuck with watching it at the cinema for at least a month, which to be honest is the best way to watch a lot of movies anyway. Then after that, you could start checking online for DVD or digital release dates so you know when it arrives everywhere else. There is one exception to this model: Netflix original movies, but we’ll get into that later.


Series (Cable/Satellite channels)

Now everyone’s favorite TV programs are basically split between cable or satellite channels and streaming services, and both of these have their own models, though of course, keeping track of release dates is a must. For satellite or cable channels, the release of a series is usually channel specific and it will usually get screened on that channel first, then get distributed to other channels which want to play that same show. This is what explains thing like DSTV’s “express from the US” shows that screen within 24 hours of the original US airing. Cable channel series often release over a period that can last months too, with some like sitcoms going over virtually over the whole year. Hence for anyone who likes to binge watch these, you know you’re waiting for at least three months to watch the whole season at once.


Steaming services (Movies and Series)

Streaming services are where it all gets interesting, due to their nature of trying to be online one stop shops for all your entertainment. The poster boy for this model is of course Netflix, with it having collection of old fan favorite shows like Friends, slightly behind licensed shows from cable channels like Arrow, Billions and Westworld, movies which will be past DVD release dates and finally original shows and movies such as Narcos and Bird Box. It’s a huge onslaught on how we were used to watching TV because now we don’t have to wait until eight o’clock to watch our favorite series, we can just literally stream them instantly as long as they are released. And there’s also something that Netflix has capitalized on: binge watching. All Netflix shows are released either all at once or over a period of two days, which makes binge fanatics get hooked on a show nearly instantly. And of course, Netflix is the huge success case for this model and not all streaming services can say the same, but they do all follow similar models to relative success. After all, streaming itself has become so lucrative that Disney is starting it’s own streaming service that will have tons of Marvel and Star Wars exclusive content, while Apple has dipped it’s toes in with Apple TV+.  But back to how all this affects you, whether you actually use streaming services or find their content through …ahem…other means, the release date is again important. Also maybe checking out how the show will be released. For example, Netflix can release everything within one weekend, while some shows on services like Hulu or Showmax may be released in a weekly fashion. It’s a very flexible model as it’s really up to the service. Another thing to be warry of is that a lot of streaming service shows tend to stay exclusive to that service, which means you likely won’t find them on DSTV one day. There are exclusive distribution deals of course, for example DSTV got it’s hands on the Hulu produced Marvel’s Runaways, but that was months after it originally came out so if you see a really awesome show online that’s a Netflix exclusive, don’t be surprised if it stays as just that, an exclusive.  The craziest thing about streaming services recently however has been movies, particularly Netflix produced original movies. Sandra Bullock’s Bird Box, Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan’s The Foreigner, Will Smith’s Bright. These where all Netflix produced movies, that where available for free on the service if you had a subscription, but two of those got released in Ster-Kinekor cinemas as well. Now the reason for that is simple, Netflix at the time wasn’t officially available in Zim and they probably want to make money with those movies. Crazy? Definitely, I mean if you watched them premier night you would technically pay one month’s worth of a subscription price to watch one movie you would get for free on the service, which would also be immediately available on torrents. I’m not advocating for piracy here but even I wouldn’t take that deal. Point is, if you saw a movie being advertised on Netflix and Ster-Kinekor tries to lure your to watching it in the cinema again, don’t.

But that about wraps up our explainer on how movies and series work, and in case we somehow confused you here’s a shortened version.

  1. Movies are 90% of the time released in cinemas first and only in cinemas for up to three months. Afterwards a DVD/Digital release happens (which includes DSTV BoxOffice) and a few more months after that you can find them on Netflix or DSTV channels.

  2. Series made by western cable/satellite channels are released per season on a certain date, and can ran on a period of up to a year per season before they take breaks off the air. Which is when you can binge watch them if you wish.

  3. Streaming services bring flexible dynamic models to all their shows and movies, along with offering some stuff satellite channels offer. Streaming service exclusives usually stay on their platforms e.g. Netflix’s Daredevil. DO NOT watch streaming service movies in the cinema, it’s rarely a good idea.



And there we go. Hopefully this little guide helped smooth things over for you when trying to find a show. What are you most excited to see or are you enjoying watching this April? Tell us in the comments below or on social media.


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