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What's Happening to Universal Movies - Are They Banned at the Cinema?

Credit: One News Page Staff- Published on May 4, 2020
by 👨‍💻 Graham Pierrepoint

Recently, we shared news with you that, as a result of lockdown conditions during the COVID-19 crisis, it seems that some movie studios are considering moving their film releases to video on demand at home ahead of physically heading to the cinema. In light of people being unable to head to their nearest cinemas to see movies for the foreseeable future, it’s a move that makes sense from a practical perspective.

However, from a money-making perspective, it is something different entirely. Trends were recently bucked with the early release of animated sequel Trolls World Tour (see our review here), which has gone on to break all manner of records. That, at least, shows that there is a taste to see movies at home early, even if COVID-19 is facilitating that trend for the time being. Universal, therefore, have indicated recently that they will continue to push their movies to both physical cinemas as well as at-home video on demand services.

This, unfortunately, has left a bad taste in the mouths of some cinema operators. Despite Universal opting to share its future filmic content both at home as well as in cinemas, it seems that the news has rubbed industry leaders up the wrong way.

News has emerged this week that AMC Theatres and Cineworld will be blocking releases from the studio as a result of their decision to dual-release pictures moving forwards. In the UK, this means that both Odeon and Cineworld – the two biggest movie theatre brands nationwide – will no longer be hosting movies from the studio in any shape or form. This means that, potentially, fans of the Fast and Furious and Minions franchises will either have to head to a smaller chain of cinemas, or will instead be able to watch such films at home.

It’s an interesting twist in the tale. In our previous look at this phenomenon, we considered whether or not the trend for releasing movies early at home would persist. However, this has now been thrown into jeopardy as it seems that big cinemas are keen to show where they stand. Of course, it’s clear that should a studio release movies at home as well as in cinemas, many will choose to simply stay home. This could result in a loss of revenue for big cinema chains.

Despite the fact that Trolls World Tour has so far made in excess of $100 million at home, it seems that Universal will be feeling the pinch from curtailment of physical distribution for some time to come. Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, previously advised that his company would continue to dispatch movies to both cinemas and to home on demand services.

Shell, however, hasn’t changed his position following the reaction from big cinema chains. “The question is, when we come out of this, what is going to be model?” he stated to Variety. “I would expect that consumers will return to theatres and we will be part of that.”

“I would also expect PVOD is going to be a part of that offering in some way. It’s not going to be a replacement, but it will be a complementary element and we’re just going to have to see how long that takes, and where it takes us.”

However, Cineworld’s argument on such matters is just as clear-cut. “We invest heavily in our cinemas across the globe and this allows us the movie studios to provide customers all around the world to watch the movies in the best experience. There is no argument that the big screen is the best way to watch a movie.”

“Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding,” the statement continues, “and did so at the height of the COVID-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home, and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas.”

Therefore, the whole saga just got a little more complex. We are now potentially looking at a raft of major films – those from the Jurassic World series, for example – disappearing from the majority of big cinemas. It is not especially clear if the cinema chains in question will backtrack on their decision, nor if NBCUniversal will follow suit.

In the meantime, it seems that we can reasonably expect there to at least be a choice when it comes to video on demand and in-cinema releases in future. Which option is likely to bring in the most interest in months and years to come? Will it be a trend which weathers on past the COVID-19 crisis? It’s far too early to say. However, what will be interesting to see is whether or not other studios dare follow suit, given the clear stance some of the biggest in-cinema chains are taking.

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