Universal Pictures’ bet to release kids movie “Trolls World Tour” directly to video-streaming services during the coronavirus lockdown has spurred a surprise windfall — and it could be bad news for movie theaters, according to a report.
Last month, in the days before the nation’s movie theaters were closing down, executives at Universal Pictures parent Comcast were faced with the decision of whether to delay the theatrical release of the animated sequel to the 2016 hit or to make it available to house-bound consumers immediately, according to a Tuesday report in the Wall Street Journal.
The execs opted to make the movie available as a digital rental on platforms like Apple TV, Google Play and Amazon Prime Video for $19.99.
Three weeks later, “Trolls World Tour” has amassed nearly $100 million in rentals, according to the report.
With nearly 5 million rentals, the digital release has in three weeks generated more revenue for Universal than the original “Trolls” did during its five-month theatrical run, according to an anonymous source cited by the Journal on Tuesday.
The movie’s performance, according to the report, has “convinced Universal executives that digital releases can be a winning strategy,” and may “diminish the role” of movie theaters after the pandemic is over.
Since the pandemic began, studio execs have had their eye on “Trolls” as a means to change the way movies are released.
For years, studios have debated movie theaters over their requirement to show a movie exclusively for more than two months before screening at home, even as Netflix has dominated the at-home entertainment realm. But now, with more than 40,000 movie theater screens dimmed amid the pandemic, studios are looking for the opportunity to get films in front of consumers at home sooner.
“The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Jeff Shell, head of the film studio’s parent division NBCUniversal, told The Journal. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
Universal said it made more than $77 million in revenue from “Trolls World Tour” so far. According to the report, that means “Trolls World Tour” has generated about $95 million in rental fees from nearly 5 million customers since its release, based on revenue figures from an anonymous source. To achieve that same amount of revenue during a theatrical run would have required box office sales to hit $154 million, which is what the original “Trolls” movie grossed.
Universal said it will deploy the same release strategy on “The King of Staten Island,” a new comedy directed by Judd Apatow that had been scheduled to hit theaters on June 19.
In March, Universal shipped four other movies to digital platforms for $20 rentals when the theaters closed: “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” “Emma” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” Those four movies have in total generated about $60 million in rentals to date, with about $48 million flowing back to Universal, The Journal said.
AT&T-owned rival Warner Bros. is taking cues from Universal Pictures and is releasing its upcoming kids’ flick “Scoob!” straight to digital on May 15, the day it would have hit theaters, for $19.99 to rent or $24.99 to buy.
Warner Bros. will offer the film on its parent company’s new streaming service HBO Max, which will launch on May 27 for $14.99 a month, after its digital release. HBO Max also bought the rights to stream Seth Rogen’s upcoming comedy, “An American Pickle,” which was originally set for release in theaters by Sony Pictures Entertainment later this year.
Still most are delaying their highest grossing films for the box office. Case in point: Last month, Universal Pictures pushed the release of its sure-to-be-blockbuster hit “Fast & Furious 9,” by a year.