We’re living in an unprecedented time, as major chunks of society are shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that includes the world of entertainment. With multiplexes across the US and in many other countries shut down, the typical distribution system is not an option and studios must decide how to get their movies to the public. The MAJOR releases like ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ are being pushed back to later dates and will open, as intended, in theaters whenever they (and the rest of society) are back up and running.
‘Bloodshot’, ‘The Invisible Man’, ‘The Hunt’, ‘Onward’, and more had only recently opened in theaters before they went into lockdown, so their studios decided to offer them as video-on-demand (VOD) titles. Generally speaking, these movies cost $20 for a 48-hour rental. It was an experiment, but there was little else that could be done. The movies had technically opened in theaters. The VOD option allowed them to make back a portion of what they would have made on ticket sales.
On the con side, some folks don’t see the value. Up to now, most VOD titles were movies that opened in theaters months prior but not yet available on DVD or Blu-Ray, and they cost closer to $5 to rent for the same 48-hour frame. So the higher fee has some balking. That’s closer to what it would cost to BUY a movie, so some can’t wrap their minds around paying that for a 48-hour rental. But it should be remembered that $20 is less than the cost of two adult tickets to a normal showing of a movie.
Then there are the pay streaming services. Paramount decided to send its romantic comedy ‘The Lovebirds’ to Netflix instead of theaters. That was followed by the announcement that Disney’s ‘Artemis Fowl’ would go directly to Disney+, and most recently, STX’s ‘My Spy’ starring Dave Bautista would go to Amazon Prime Video. Not only are they bypassing theaters, but they are skipping the VOD phase as well.
This is a little problematic. Many wonder why ALL of the movies that were supposed to be released in theaters aren’t being released via streaming. The answer is, obviously, that to release them that way, the studios are giving them away for free. The likes of ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ cost hundreds of millions to make in the hopes of making many more hundreds of millions, if not billions more at the box office. So studios can’t just give them away on streaming services that people already pay for. Something like 50 million households subscribe to Disney+. If ‘Black Widow’ is released on Disney+, those 50 million households aren’t paying an extra dime for it. The only money that would go toward ‘Black Widow’s bottom line is new subscribers, and considering that Disney+ offers a free trial, what’s to stop people from signing up, watching ‘Black Widow’ and canceling their subscription before being charged?
Why are ‘The Lovebirds’, ‘My Spy’, and ‘Artemis Fowl’ going directly to streaming? To put it bluntly, because they were probably going to flop. These studios could have offered them as VOD titles and made a little money, but without a theatrical release to raise awareness, they probably wouldn’t have made much. Sending them straight to streaming can be seen as a courtesy– a goodwill gesture.
That brings us to this weekend’s major VOD release, ‘Trolls World Tour’. Theater chains were ticked that Universal announced that this picture would not open in theaters, because it had the potential to be a blockbuster. And it seems they were right. This experiment has been a success as ‘Trolls World Tour had the studio’s best VOD debut on record, although the exact numbers have yet to be reported.
Part of why this movie kind of had to be released now may sound silly. It was because Universal had already set into motion the marketing for it. Those glittery ‘Trolls’ Oreos weren’t going to still be on the market in six months. The studio had to get this movie out while there was an awareness and demand for it. Reportedly, the studio did not back down from its planned marketing campaign, spending just as much to promote it on VOD as it had planned to spend for its theatrical release. Once again, it seems to have worked.
Once again, the $20 fee for 48 hours is less than the movie would have made on ticket sales, but at least it’s something. And this could influence other studios to take a similar approach with other movies that were supposed to open in theaters but that maybe aren’t guaranteed to be massive hits.
We’ll have to wait and see how long this shut-down remains in effect and how Hollywood reacts.