Major cities are under lockdown amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, and movie theaters have been ordered to shut down, specifically in LA and NY. The coronavirus pandemic continues to strike a blow to the global theatrical marketplace, however major studios may have found a solution and it could fundamentally change the industry as we know it.
Universal Studios announced Monday that it would be releasing some of its titles on VOD for $19.99. The animated family film “Trolls: World Tour” was initially slotted for an April 10 theatrical release, but will now be available for digital rental on the same day and date. Universal and Blumhouse’s “The Invisible Man” and “The Hunt” along with Focus Features “Emma” will also see $19.99 digital releases starting as early as this Friday March 20 for a rental period of 48 hours. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell made the following statement regarding the decision.
“Universal Pictures has a broad and diverse range of movies with 2020 being no exception. Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable. We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”
To some this decision may come as a surprise, but it’s truthfully been a highly debated point of contention for the industry. Hollywood titans such as Steven Spielberg have fought hard for the preservation of the theatrical experience, while others have advocated for direct to digital or delayed digital release given the changing landscape of the industry. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic and implementation of social distancing/self quarantine may have tipped the scales as studios attempt to recoup money coming off the biggest domestic box office drop in two decades.
While Universal currently has no intention of digitally releasing major blockbusters such as “F9,” this decision could ultimately benefit those mid to low budget films in reaching a much wider audience after suffering drastic drop offs.