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The new on-demand option for motion pictures delivers as many disasters as winners

The success rate during theater closings is very mixed.

With Hollywood in upheaval as a result of the Wuhan virus pandemic, there has been much reported on regarding how studios are dealing with the challenges. One area of potential relief has been found in the video-on-demand (VOD) marketplace. Studios stuck in the lurch with newly released titles were suddenly facing widespread theater closings so turning instantly to the home streaming market became a necessary option.

Universal led this charge and the studio made the risky announcement that instead of pushing forward the release date for the upcoming kids title “Trolls World Tour,” it would be making its global debut on VOD platforms. With audiences kept home and kids hungry for diversionary entertainment this became a successful gambit. To date ‘’Trolls’’ has grossed figures on par with the theatrical release of the first film.

In similar fashion a couple of weeks ago Warner Brothers elected to bring its animated title ‘’Scoob!’’ to the home video market where it has been the number one downloaded title. These success stories have been enough to bring discord to the studio and theater owners’ relationship, as Universal has stated it is interested in bypassing the normal 90 day waiting period for theatrical releases to be available as a VOD option. In response some theater chains have pledged not to even exhibit Universal titles.

This all could be a tempest in a popcorn tub, however. AMC Theaters is on the brink of insolvency, unless it gets a needed bailout from a streaming giant, as I previously covered. But just as the exhibitor’s market is completely in flux, and the number of screens available a mystery at this stage, the ‘’solution’’ of video on demand is not a guaranteed fix for the studios. Just as placing titles in theaters is not a promise of profits the home streaming market is also not an assured solution.

While the press has been enthusiastic over the ‘’Trolls’’ and ‘’Scoob!’’ successes there has not been as much attention on the major studio releases which foundered on the home market. Disney Studios was sucker-punched by the coronavirus outbreak with a few titles impacted. Its major release of the live-action version of ‘’Mulan’’ was pulled from the calendar, now sitting with a tentative release date of July 24. Its most recent release was the animated effort from partner Pixar, ‘’Onward’’, and this fantasy met with a nightmare.

Disney gave the film a lengthy marketing push leading to its March 6 release date. However as the premiere approached the nation was just getting caught up in the reality of the pandemic. While mass closings had yet to take place many were already occupying themselves with preparations and toilet paper hoarding, and as a result an otherwise occupied audience led to a softer than expected debut for the title, at just $39 million. It proved to be the last viable weekend for Hollywood

By the next weekend the nation had begun to go into our quarantine state, with many theaters closing in various parts of the nation. ‘’Onward’’ suffered a massive drop of -73% in its second week, and then the following week most theaters were closed across the country. Like other studios with releases showing in theaters Disney brought ‘’Onward’’ to the home market, for a $19.99 download price. This did not go as well.

It was soon announced that ‘’Onward’’ would be making its debut on the Disney+ streaming service on April 6. The studio opted to make the film a premium offering on its new service, a way to help it stay competitive in a streaming market growing increasingly crowded. To date ‘’Onward’’ has grossed $100 million in theaters, with the streaming total offering little more. This was a big hit for the studio after sinking about $200 million in the making and marketing of the film.

Another studio suffering a viral hit was Sony. The studio was hoping to launch a new action franchise with Vin Diesel, as he starred in the film ‘’Bloodshot’’, based on a comic book from Valiant Comics. Sony acquired the rights about 8 years ago and had hopes of launching a new film franchise, one that could spinoff other characters from the Valiant library. Scheduling and then an outbreak unraveled all those plans.

Sony had planned on a February 21 release, but then 20th Century Fox moved its film ‘’The Call Of The Wild’’ with Harrison Ford to that date. Hoping for a less competitive weekend ‘’Bloodshot’’ was moved to March 13, landing right in the teeth of the pandemic panic. The film, a narrative mess that relies heavily on computer effects, grossed less than $10 million before theaters were closed down. Two weeks later they tried to get interest in the VOD market, with little interest found. It is safe to assume Sony will not be developing this property any further.

With realities like these existing we are far from seeing a resolution in the theatrical marketplace. It will take months, following the proposed partial reopening of theaters in July, before the real shakeout of the movie business is realized.