Hollywood studios are shifting their release strategies in the face of pandemic reactions

With the systematic closing of businesses across the country, it is rather obvious that the movie industry would become impacted. Last weekend was the first where the effects were felt, with the total box office tally for the weekend plunging -45%, hitting a low mark not seen in theaters for over two decades. It is readily apparent that there will be significant decisions facing studios and exhibitors in the coming months.

Already some stark decisions have been made. A number of big-budget releases have already been removed from the release schedule due to the diminished box office returns of theaters closings and audience flight. The next issue in response will be on what dates to place these films on the already crowded calendar. With this reality facing them, and ticket buyers primarily sequestered at home, one studio is working on a more direct option to find its audience, and it is one that could possibly affect release practices in the future.

Universal Pictures has made a bold decision to make its new release titles available on the home market, a drastic cut from the normal release windows major release titles receive. The upcoming animated sequel ‘Trolls World Tour’’ will be in theaters on April 10, but the studio has elected to make the film available for Video On Demand on the same day and Date. The title will be made available for $19.99, with a 48-hour window of availability.

Universal has also made the decision to offer up current releases in theaters for VOD customers as well. These movies will be ‘’The Invisible Man’’, newly released ‘’The Hunt’’, and ‘’Emma’’. These titles will be available for in-home viewing this Friday, March 20.

This is not a decision arrived at lightly, as it bucks the normal agreements in place with the theater operators and the major studios. Normally wide release titles are held back from a home release for at least a 90 day window, so exhibitors can have the maximum time for showings as well as placing a premium on seeing the title in theaters. While understandable that a studio would want to recoup box office revenues from lost showtimes this becomes an additional strain on already struggling theaters.

By last weekend over 100 theater closings had taken place, with that number promised to spike this week. Cinemark Theaters has already closed all of its locations, with AMC and Regal theater chains closing by this coming Tuesday. The real question is the long term effect this may have on theater locations, with independents and privately owned chain locations likely to be challenged to remain open.

If this new platform of timing VOD with theatrical release dates it could further lend a challenge to exhibitors. By the looks of things right now the Covid-19 outbreak may hasten the audience shift to home digital even faster.

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