In a major shake-up to the movie business, AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures have partnered to bring new movies to premium VOD shortly after their initial release. AMC and Universal squabbled earlier in the year following the release of Trolls World Tour on VOD, which proved to be a big success for the studio. AMC countered by saying they would not release movies that don't adhere to the traditional, exclusive theatrical window, which used to be closer to three months. Under this new deal, that window has been shredded to just 17 days.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but AMC is expected to share in the profits from any movie that goes to premium VOD early. This means, in theory, movies like Fast & Furious 9 or Jurassic World: Dominion could be enjoyed from the comfort of home, for a premium, scarcely more than two weeks after they initially arrive in theaters. Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, had this to say about the deal in a statement.
"The theatrical experience continues to be the cornerstone of our business. The partnership we've forged with AMC is driven by our collective desire to ensure a thriving future for the film distribution ecosystem and to meet consumer demand with flexibility and optionality."
Universal and other studios have been pushing to shrink traditional theatrical windows for some time now. Exhibitors such as AMC have pushed back hard against the idea, fearing it would damage their business. However, the ongoing theater closure that started back in March has changed everything. AMC is saddled with billions in debt and is near bankruptcy. The movie theater industry will need to adapt to survive.
The success of movies like Trolls World Tour on premium VOD, with the rentals typically going for around $20, helped force the issue. This does not mean that all movies will hit VOD after 17 days. Universal can, and likely will, keep big blockbusters like Jurassic World: Dominion in theaters exclusively longer to maximize profit. But for mid-budget movies, this presents a whole new way of doing business. AMC's CEO Adam Aron had this to say about it.
"Focusing on the long-term health of our industry, we would note that just as restaurants have thrived even though every home has a kitchen, AMC is highly confident that moviegoers will come to our theaters in huge numbers in a post-pandemic world. As people enjoy getting out of their homes, we believe the mystical escape and magical communal experience offered at our theaters will always be a compelling draw, including as it does our big screens, big sound and big seats not to mention the alluring aroma of our perfectly prepared popcorn."
It is important to note that the deal only extends to the U.S. for now. Also, Universal can't charge less for these titles once they hit VOD. They must adhere to the premium VOD pricing, meaning that they will still be in the $20 range. What remains to be seen if other studios, as well as other theater chains, follow suit. Though that seems likely at this point. We'll be sure to keep you posted as the situation develops. This news was previously reported by Variety.