Yesterday, we reported how Universal was proudly talking about how the straight-to-VOD release of “Trolls World Tour” earned more revenue in three weeks than the entire theatrical run of the film, domestically. Why would Universal tout this information? Clearly, it was an attempt to show that theatrical distribution of major films isn’t the only way to move forward in a post-COVID-19 world and that the studio would “release movies on both formats” when the pandemic is over. Well, as you might imagine, this led to some pretty wild responses from theater owners and the world’s largest cinema chain. Bear with me, there is a lot to discuss.
After the report about “Trolls World Tour” revenue, AMC Theatres, the world’s largest theater chain, and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) both released statements about the news. In terms of NATO, the organization didn’t dispute the numbers released by Universal, but instead, the group claimed that the circumstances led to the inflated performance.
“This performance is indicative of hundreds of millions of people isolated in their homes seeking entertainment, not a shift in consumer movie viewing preferences,” NATO said (via Deadline). “It is not surprising that people under shelter-in-home ordinances for weeks on end with increasingly limited entertainment options would take advantage of the movie’s direct-to-VOD move to keep children entertained, even at a premium price.”
AMC Theatres went even one step further. Not only did the company show its displeasure for Universal’s claims that future films might skip theatrical releases altogether, but AMC CEO Adam Aron said, “Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theatres globally on these terms.”
And why is Universal being punished when both Warner Bros. and Disney are doing similar releases for films such as “Scoob!” and “Artemis Fowl,” respectively?
Universal is the only studio contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo. Hence, this immediate communication in response,” said the AMC CEO.
As you might expect, when AMC Theatres says that it will no longer show your films in any of its 1,000 locations around the world, a studio is going to respond. And that’s exactly what Universal did.
The studio said, “We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary. As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense. We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions.”
So, it would appear that Universal is claiming that all of this fervor was caused by a misinterpretation of its original statement. At this time, the studio doesn’t think it’ll break the theatrical window by releasing major films on VOD day-and-date as its theatrical release. Instead, the studio is now going to decide if some films warrant a VOD release instead of a big-screen debut.
And in a battle of statements, you know that one organization needs the last word. In this case, that distinction goes to NATO, who took offense to Universal’s “reckless charge” that the organization somehow coordinated with AMC for an attack against the studio.
The final statement added, “Unfortunately Universal has a destructive tendency to both announce decisions affecting their exhibitor partners without actually consulting with those partners, and now of making unfounded accusations without consulting with their partners.”
Okay, did you get all of that? The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone in the film industry and it’s clear that NATO and AMC Theatres (along with other exhibitors) are concerned about how studios release films during this time, hoping that the status quo doesn’t change as a result. But even though Universal isn’t willing to say it bluntly, you’d have to be crazy to think that the studio isn’t happy with the results of “Trolls World Tour” and sees a big future with releasing films straight-to-VOD. It’s unclear how this will all shake out with other studios and other exhibitors. But for now, it would appear that this battle is far from over.