Success of on-demand Trolls sequel fuels fears for theatres
Los Angeles – Movie theatre owners rushed to defend the future of big screen releases on Tuesday after reports that Trolls World Tour grossed US$95 million (S$134m) on streaming platforms prompted dire warnings over the industry.
The children’s animated film sequel was released by Universal Pictures directly to on-demand platforms like Apple TV, costing US$19.99 to rent, after much of its theatrical release was scrapped due to the coronavirus.
Days after its Easter weekend release, Universal claimed it had shattered streaming records, though it did not release any figures.
But the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday reported Trolls World Tour had earned a huge US$95 million from nearly five million domestic customers in three weeks, citing “a person familiar with the matter”.
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According to the report, “its performance has convinced Universal executives that digital releases can be a winning strategy, and may diminish the role of theatres even after the pandemic passes”.
“As soon as theatres reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats,” NBCUniversal head Jeff Shell said, adding the film had “exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability” of streaming.
Theatre owners quickly downplayed the report, in a statement that insisted Trolls World Tour’s performance was not “the new normal” but the result of hundreds of millions trapped at home.
“Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases,” said National Association of Theatre Owners head John Fithian.
Leading US theatre chain AMC also annouced it will no longer play any Universal Pictures movies in any of its theatres globally effective immediately.
In a letter to Universal, CEO Adam Aron said: “AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theatres simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies.”
Universal responded by saying it was disappointed by the decision and labelled it as a “seemingly coordinated attempt” to “confuse our position and our actions”.
A spokesman 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 premium video on demand (PVOD) when that distribution outlet makes sense.”
Trolls World Tour is one of many studio titles – in particular, family films – to either shorten or entirely skip the traditional “theatrical window” for movies playing only on the big screen due to coronavirus.
Warner Bros. will release Scoob! direct to streaming next month, Disney has earmarked Artemis Fowl for its Disney+ platform and Paramount title Lovebirds is headed straight to Netflix, in another industry first.
Major theatre chains such as AMC, Regal and Cinemark are not expected to reopen until shortly before the next scheduled Hollywood blockbusters including Tenet and Mulan – both currently set for mid-July. - AFP/REUTERS