When coronavirus led to stay at home orders, theaters closed and movie studios were forced to shift strategies. Some opted to push back premiere dates, while others took a chance on breaking the traditional theatrical window and going straight to streaming.
NBCUniversal announced in March that it would be skipping the theatrical window and taking some new movies straight to streaming. The decision was made as a way to meet customers where they were at.
“Given the rapidly evolving and unprecedented changes to consumers’ daily lives during this difficult time, the company felt that now was the right time to provide this option in the home as well as in theaters,” Universal said in a statement at that time.
Trolls World Tour was one of those films scheduled to debut online on the same day as the theatrical release. Since the movie was made available to rent and buy online, it has broken records and proved to be a huge success for the company.
Disney followed, bringing Onward to Disney+ less than a month after its theatrical premiere, then announcing that Artemis Fowl would be skipping theaters and going straight to the streaming platform. Warner Brothers then brought Birds of Prey to streaming early, after a poor performance in theaters.
The question now is how this will affect the future of movie releases.
Since the rise of streaming, studios have been looking for more flexible terms when it comes to the period of time between theater showings and on-demand availability, arguing that shortening the window could help market films for on-demand, rentals, and digital purchases. Theaters have resisted, in an effort to keep viewers coming in for the theater experience rather than waiting months for films to be available on home screens. Now, it looks like theaters have less room for negotiating as the success of Trolls and other films is proving that streaming concurrently with theatrical releases can work.
But the theaters aren’t backing down just yet. Earlier this week, AMC said it won’t show Universal films when its theaters open back up to the public. “This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theaters reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat,” said AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Trolls World Tour has been rented 5 million times and has brought in $100 million in sales. Universal says it will continue releasing select titles on-demand early, even after theaters are re-opened. “The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” said NBCUniversal film chief Jeff Shell. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” That said, 51% of people who rented Trolls said they would have “definitely” gone to the theater to watch, if they were able, according to WSJ.
We’re at a major turning point for the film industry. When stay at home orders are lifted, will movie watchers want to go back to the theaters? Will streaming concurrently with theater releases become the new normal, forcing theaters to rethink negotiations with studios? As things continue to evolve, trends will depend on how consumers choose to spend their entertainment dollars. We’ll have to wait for the numbers to start coming in before we’ll know how much coronavirus has impacted the industry.
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