lördag 2 maj 2020

Covid-19 - Studios bypass cinemas with lucrative lockdown premieres

Studios bypass cinemas with lucrative lockdown premieres.

Universal’s latest on-demand hit, kept out of theatres by Covid-19, has made more profit in three weeks than its predecessor did in five months on the big screen.

An animated musical extravaganza about a group of pop-loving trolls may turn out to be the most important film in recent Hollywood history. Trolls World Tour, which has become a lockdown hit, notching up digital sales of $100m (£80m) in three weeks, has become the focal point of a battle that could forever change moviegoing habits in the Netflix era.

With cinemas closed, Hollywood studios are challenging the sacrosanct tradition that multiplexes air films first for up to three months, before their release on other platforms such as pay-TV, DVD and streaming. Instead, they are pushing new films straight to fans at home.

Universal Pictures has been the most aggressive of the Hollywood studios with its strategy for Trolls World Tour. The film had been due for a global cinema release on 10 April, but instead became the most high-profile movie to be made available solely on digital services such as Amazon’s Prime Video at £15.99 ($19.99).

Universal gets a greater cut of revenue from digital services than at the box office, which means the film has made the same amount of profit in its first three weeks as the firstTrolls film did during its entire five-month run in US cinemas.

Emboldened by its success, last week the company indicated that it would collapse the cinema release window by releasing films digitally at the same time. “As soon as theatres reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats,” said Jeff Shell, the chief executive of parent company NBCUniversal.

Those comments immediately prompted the world’s two biggest cinema operators – AMC, which owns the Odeon chain in the UK, and Cineworld – to issue a global ban on screenings of all films from the maker of the Fast & Furious and Jurassic World franchises when business restarts. The operators accused Universal of “breaking the business model” that has underpinned the Hollywood movie system for generations.

“Universal has cast the first stone,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst at research firm Exhibitor Relations. “This is exactly what the theatrical exhibition world had always feared – proof that bypassing theatres could be a viable model of distribution for studios. Like it or not, the floodgates have opened. This is just the beginning, and the longer it takes for theatres to open on a worldwide scale, we’re going to see the PVOD [premium video on demand] schedule become more and more populated.”

That schedule is now filling up. Universal announced last week that Judd Apatow’s new comedy The King of Staten Island would scrap its planned cinema release on 19 June and premiere on-demand instead. And Warner Bros is doing the same with Scoob!, the first full-length animated Scooby-Doo film, which was meant to hit cinemas on 15 May.

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