Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many theaters have had to temporarily close their doors, causing many companies to find alternative methods for releasing their products. Movie studios have begun releasing their films straight to streaming websites, such as Amazon Prime or Disney +, and while the studios have found success, it has not been without controversy.
One of the first films to attempt this new style of distribution was “Trolls: World Tour,” the long-awaited sequel to 2016’s “Trolls.” It was initially projected to release on April 10, 2020, but due to the temporary closure of movie theaters, Universal instead made the decision to release in both theaters and various streaming platforms on the same day.
“Trolls: World Tour” was not the first film to have a pre-mature release onto streaming websites in the early 2020 season. Warner Brother’s “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” Disney’s “Onward” and Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” all were released to various streaming sites due to COVID-19, but they all enjoyed a theatrical release before making the jump. The simultaneous release of “Trolls: World Tour” has been a controversial decision, and not one that theaters are taking lightly.
On April 28, AMC declared that they would no longer show Universal Studio’s films in their theaters. On April 29, Cineworld released a statement that they would begin to pull films that failed to respect the theatrical window of release, defined here as the period of time between a movie’s initial theatrical release and it being made available to stream online. Usually, films have to wait between 75 to 90 days before they are eligible for streaming.
For movie theaters, bigger releases are what keep them from shutting down. As streaming becomes more prevalent, and as more companies create personal streaming sites, the opportunity to keep things contained results in ways to make more money.
“Trolls World Tour” took in $100 million in rentals in its first three weeks of play in North America and of that $100 million, Universal got 80%. The first “Trolls” movie made $153.7 million and Universal only got to keep 50% of the profit. Overall, this new method of releasing films has resulted in higher profit for Universal and has been the largest factor in the future of co-releasing films.
This is not the only factor effecting movie theaters’ revenue. In November 2019, the Department of Justice began to do away with the Paramount Consent Degrees, which are laws dictating how companies and theaters interact with each other. They ban companies from owning their own theaters, dictate the standard amount of time a film can be in theaters and help prevent a process known as block booking – a method in which a production company requires a theater to buy a package of films instead of individual films.
This could result in theaters not being able to buy films such as future Marvel titles without also buying a poor performing film. This practice also alienates smaller theaters with less screens, forcing them to choose between which movie packages to buy or even in some cases preventing them from buying any movies at all. Many theaters rely on the exclusivity of theatrical release to make money and with these changes will find themselves having to go out of business.
May is the beginning of the second round of film releases, and many films that were projected to release this month are choosing to bypass theaters all together. “Artemis Fowl,” “The King of Staten Island” and “Scoob!” have all made the jump to exclusive streaming premieres throughout May and June.
With many arguing that this is just another COVID-19 measure, Jeff Shell, NBC Universal CEO, told the Wall Street Journal, “The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations as soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
Other studios following suit is inevitable, and with films such as “F9,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” and “Jurassic World: Dominion” on the horizon, AMC and Cineworld might be forced to stand down. These movies are all part of huge franchises and they are projected to make a ton of money, money that these companies might need to stay afloat in a post-coronavirus world. Needless to say, the face of cinema has been changed, for better or for worse.