COVID-19 has impacted the entire world. Self isolation and quarantining have made a lot of businesses struggle to keep relevant during our uncertain times. One of the businesses declared unessential during these times were movie theaters. This made sense to me, if there is a pandemic going on the last place you would wanna go is a movie theatre sitting around a bunch of stranger. Especially since there is always that one guy who will sit right behind you even though the rest of the theatre is EMPTY (we all know that guy). Businesses that have been declared unessential are struggling to keep in business during COVID. Now, online shopping avenues like Amazon have skyrocketed and streaming services like Netflix have done better then ever before. The future for brick and border stores and entertainment venues is becoming uncertain. I work at a movie theatre, go to concerts pretty frequently and I spend a lot of time at the library. So COVID has definitely impacted how I spend my day to day for better or for worse. I've worried most about how theatres will be affected after things go back to normal. I'm not the only one with this worry.
I've read a few people say that movie theaters should be the last thing we worry about right now. While I understand the urgency of the pandemic and keeping people healthy, people who run and operate theaters as well as people who create films need to get paid in some way to provide for their own families. B&B Theaters, the company I work for, right now is selling popcorn curbside and all proceeds go to helping pay for insurance for their employees for the next month. This is the kind of brilliant thinking that will save movie theaters. A company that is in financial trouble is a chain called AMC Theaters. AMC for years have been seen as one of the biggest theatre chains in the entire world but after this pandemic their future seemed to be uncertain. A lot of people saying after looking at their loss margins they might not be able to reopen.Well, after the news that has come out about AMC in the past few days, they might have shot themselves in the foot.
When movie theaters shut down movies currently released in theaters had to come up with a plan to not loose too much money from their distribution. Their solution was to go to VOD. For just twenty bucks you could rent a first run movie. It might sound steep at first, but consider this. An adult ticket to a movie is gonna be about ten bucks. You have a family of four and you buy popcorn and drinks. You are gonna run the risk of paying seventy five to eighty dollars at the theatre. A twenty buck flat rate to rent a first run release at home where you don't have to be around people probably disrespecting the movie going experience? Yeah there's an advantage to this release model. This is just temporary thing you might think to yourself? This isn't going to be the norm for now on! Well, Universal Pictures did something unexpected. They didn't pull the movie Trolls from their release schedule. They released it in three theaters open in the Country in April as well as putting it on digital for a flat rate of twenty bucks. Trolls World Tour is a groundbreaking film. It is the fi wide released blockbuster film to release exclusively to digital platform and a couple of drive ins.
To a lot of people this looked like a last minute decision to make as much money as humanly possible because of the unfortunate circumstances. However, the results were much better then anyone could have ever anticipated. Trolls World Tour made even more money then the first Trolls did in its entire run in the first few weeks of its release. Universal doesn't have to share any of the profit with movie theaters which makes the profit they get back from the film even more then if they were to give it a wide release in cinemas. This could forever change the landscape for going to a movies and this does risk the movie going experience.
Universal executive Jeff Shell commented on the success of Trolls World Tour saying that they would release movies on both formats due to the success they saw on VOD. This has been a controversial statement for a lot of people in the industry and film fans in general. I think maybe Shell could have elaborated if every film would release on both formats or if some would release on one or the other. The case is that this is showing that film distribution has changed forever and this is bad for the movie theatre industry at large.
A company didn't want to have anything to do with Universal after these comments. They announced they would no longer show any Universal movies in their theaters because of their comments. The chain Regal backed AMC up saying the same thing. The movie theatre industry as now become a game of Mean Girls where everyone is petty. This whole situation scares the crap out of me if I'm going to be completely honest. I needed to write about this because I have some thoughts on this whole thing.
First off, AMC as a studio has no real power to bargain right now. If the reports are true and they are on the verge of bankruptcy, making enemies with the second largest studio behind Disney is not the best idea to keep your theatre chain operational. Next year Universal plans to release Fast and Furious Supercharged and Jurassic World 3. These are potentially billion dollar grossers and will bring big traffic to movie theaters.
Universal has to think about this as well. AMC and Regal are two major players in the industry. If both theaters refuse to play their films that will be a lot of profit they will not be making in result. Trolls World Tour was successful because of the time they released it. There were no other options to watch the movie and kids LOVE Trolls and that was a safe way to entertain kids for an hour and a half and get their minds off of the COVID-19 panic. When things start to get back to normal, will VOD released titles be as successful? I doubt it. I think for some movie it makes sense. For instance, Trolls World Tour would be a film that would be easy to watch at home. If you have a large family it would make more sense to rent the film from home. Films like Jurassic World 3 however are spectacle films and deserve the big screen treatment. They are rides, there is something that is taken away from the experience when you watch them at home.
One of my highlights of 2019 was seeing Avengers Endgame in theaters. It was so much fun because everyone was cheering, hollering and going crazy opening night. We all experienced the end of this franchise together as fans. This is the type of euphoria you could never EVER get just sitting at your couch watching it at home. People who ask why theaters should continue to exist when VOD exist don't understand truly the experience seeing something on the big screen can have. Why go see your favorite artist performa in concert when you own the CD?
In conclusion, Universal comments do scare me and I think it could hurt the entertainment industry at large. However, I do believe they want to release their films to theaters and just try releasing some exclusively on VOD or release a film in theaters and on VOD at the same time. It's a scary thing to think about as a film fan but it certainly makes sense from a business perspective. I just think that some of their films could lose money from a result of this decision. I think AMC and Regal are being petty about this. I understand their fears of this model and being upset by it. Yet, Universal has the power to do what they want. They are releasing some of the biggest titles in the world and in result of not putting them in theaters, they will sabotage themselves. With no Universal releases, AMC will make less money and so will Universal. It's a lose lose situation. So I really do hope and pray they come to an agreement about this whole scenario so us film fans can go back to theaters next year and experience films the way they are supposed to be seen, on the big screen.