Trolls World Tour was the first major studio release to skip theaters following the shutdown and head straight to digital platforms. Universal Pictures opted to release the highly-anticipated sequel on VOD, charging a premium for people to rent it and watch it at home. That business model, as it turns out, is incredibly lucrative, as the sequel has already earned more for the studio than the original did after five months in theaters.

Universal recently revealed that Trolls World Tour was rented 5 million times, meaning it took in $100 million. The studio opted to charge $19.99 for a 48-hour rental, which was also done with movies such as The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma, which had stunted theatrical windows before the shutdown kicked in. As such, it's said the studio has cleared more than $77 million in revenue. It's said that the studio keeps roughly 80 percent of the rental prices, which is quite a bit more than they would typically keep from ticket sales.

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For the sake of comparison, 2016's Trolls earned $346 million at the box office, including $153 million domestically and $193 million from international markets against a $125 million budget. To help matters for the sequel, it's said that Trolls World Tour, which was directed by Walt Dohrn and David P. Smith, was produced for a smaller $90 million production budget. That left more room to turn a profit.

There are some caveats to this. For one, movie theaters aren't open and there wasn't a lot of direct competition that Trolls World Tour was facing. It was a unique situation, to say the very least of it. Many families were stuck at home and spending $19.99 for something to do on a night in suddenly became a very appealing option. While premium VOD rentals could certainly do well once theaters open up again, it's hard to imagine replicating these same circumstances. However, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell had this to say, signaling this is going to be a part of their business model going forward.

"The results for 'Trolls World Tour' have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD. As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats."

Movie theater chains have fought hard to keep a three-month exclusive theatrical window for new releases in recent years. With the success Trolls World Tour and other new movies are enjoying, that is quite likely going to be a thing of the past. Theatrical distribution is still going to be hugely important for major blockbusters, such as Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984 and a host of other titles that are holding off until theaters reopen their doors. But premium VOD, it would seem, is going to be part of the equation as well. Case in point, Universal is also releasing the new Judd Apatow movie, The King of Staten Island, which stars Pete Davidson, On Demand in June, forgoing a theatrical release. This news was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Ryan Scott at Movieweb
Ryan Scott