Amid a box office historically depressed by the coronavirus pandemic, NBCUniversal has announced it’s making an unprecedented move by bringing its current Universal Pictures titles from theaters to VOD months ahead of schedule.
This won’t be the company’s policy across the board for 2020 and decisions regarding future films remain unmade, THR reports, but dispensing with the theatrical window even in the case of this initial handful of films is a huge deal, not to mention another indicator of how serious a threat coronavirus poses to the entertainment world. Countless film and TV productions have been shuttered by the continued spread of the virus, with movie theaters already being ordered to close in New York City and Los Angeles.
Current Universal films The Hunt, The Invisible Man and Emma. will remain in whatever theaters are left open out there; meanwhile, starting as early as this Friday, March 20 (the exact dates aren’t disclosed), they “will be [made] available on a wide variety of the most popular on-demand services for a 48-hour rental period at a suggested retail price of $19.99 in the U.S. and the price equivalent in international markets,” per NBCUniversal. Trolls World Tour will be the studio’s first day-and-date release under this policy, opening both in theaters and on VOD on April 10.
“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,” their press release reads. “NBCUniversal will continue to evaluate the environment as conditions evolve and will determine the best distribution strategy in each market when the current unique situation changes.”
THR’s report concisely summarizes the conflict between major film studios and exhibitors encapsulated by NBCUniversal’s decision: “For years, studios and theater owners have battled over the traditional theatrical window, which currently rests at roughly three months. Many studios, including Universal, have wanted to experiment with premium VOD, but cinema owners have balked and said they wouldn’t play any movie that opened day and date.”
In this case, the coronavirus—which continues to radically disrupt public life by forcing more and more of the world to shut down and move into isolation—looks to have forced Universal’s hand. It’s unclear which, if any, major studios will follow in their footsteps—A24, for one, has gone a different route, pulling First Cow from theaters so as to relaunch the film at a future date—but we’ll be watching.