Earlier this week, NBCUniversal’s questionably confident brag about the success of Trolls World Tour on VOD platforms (it made $100 million apparently!) set off a thrilling burst of movie industry drama, with the studio saying that it would continue to release movies on-demand and in theaters even when the pandemic ends because Trolls had proven that it was a viable way to release new films. AMC Theatres boss Adam Aron quickly responded by saying that, effectively immediately, his chain would no longer be screening any Universal movies ever because of the studio’s flagrant disregard for the established business model that movie theaters are built on. Cineworld Group, the owner of Regal Entertainment, also noted that its theaters would not screen movies that don’t play by the longstanding rules of how movies work.
In a normal universe, NBCUniversal would now back down, or at least say it’s backing down and then quietly do it anyway after AMC and Regal agree to keep releasing Universal movies, but we obviously don’t live in a normal universe. As reported by The Wrap, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell has politely doubled-down on his idea from the other day, noting that “the majority of movies, whether we like it or not” are watched at home and it’s “not realistic” to assume that the movie studios won’t change to account for that. Shell says he believes that consumers will eventually return to theaters and they will eventually go back to being a crucial element of how movies are released, but VOD will still be around.
Shell does offer a concession to the movie theaters (get it?), promising that releasing movies on-demand sooner than normal (or maybe day-and-date with theaters) will be a “complementary element” and not a “replacement,” adding, “We’re just gonna have to see how long that takes and where that takes us.” So it sounds like nobody’s backing down here, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens once theaters reopen and decisions like this actually start to matter.