Universal Pictures offering current theatrical films On Demand amid Coronavirus theater issues

Universal Pictures offering current theatrical films On Demand amid Coronavirus theater issues

With the current coronavirus regulations changing daily in American cities, one of the most affected form of business is movie theaters. As most cities are now making rules about the number of people who can be around each other in public gatherings, theaters are quickly becoming a no-fly zone. AMC had already announced limiting their capacity to 50 people, which for a megaplex theater isn’t many at all. Chains like Alamo Drafthouse and Studio Movie Grill had been sending out public declarations about how they planned to keep their moviegoing atmosphere safe. But in the past 24 hours, many American cities are announcing rules that will effectively prevent crowds of ANY kind from attending popular films. This all comes during a time where movie theaters were already suffering and ticket sales for first run features were much lower than anticipated. One movie studio that has decided to take steps to get ahead of this a bit is NBC/Universal aka Universal Pictures, and they are announcing that some of their current theatrical fare and even upcoming movies will be offered to watch in home using On Demand services. You can expect other studios to follow this example.

News came by way of The Hollywood Reporter that NBCUniversal is making its current movies from the Universal Pictures stable (THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE HUNT, and Focus Features’ EMMA) available on-demand for people staying home while they’re still playing in theaters.  This is a direct response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, and is said to begin on Friday, March 20, 2020.  You will be able to stream these movies on various on demand services for a 48-hour rental period at a suggested retail price of $19.99 in the U.S. and the price equivalent in international markets. TROLLS WORLD TOUR is set to hit theaters and (now) on demand April 10, 2020.  This is a huge move for a major movie studio to circumvent movie theaters like this, but at this time it seems like a necessary action.  The bigger question is IF this is highly successful, what will it mean for movie theaters when things (hopefully) normalize once the virus is no longer an issue?  Theatrical runs for films are already a small window, with many movies hitting Blu-ray and home video formats within three months of their box office run.  COVID-19 is going to change a lot of things in our lives, but the moviegoing experience would be something I personally don’t want to lose entirely, as there’s just nothing quite like watching a film in a darkened theater with a packed audience.  THR’s article noted the announcement was made by NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, and that insiders say it isn’t a blanket policy for the studio’s entire 2020 calendar and that decisions regarding other titles and the duration of the policy haven’t been made yet. That means this isn’t something you should get used to just yet, it could end in a month or two, but if home viewing catches on it could also change things in a big way for movie theaters, moving forward.

Here’s an excerpt from Shell’s statement:

NBCUniversal will continue to evaluate the environment as conditions evolve and will determine the best distribution strategy in each market when the current unique situation changes. Universal Pictures has a broad and diverse range of movies with 2020 being no exception. Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable. We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.

How do you feel about this program? Would you pay $20 to watch a first-run movie at home? Do you see this catching on? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.