When blockbuster Universal Pictures movies such as the Fast and Furious sequel F9 finally hit theaters after being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, you won’t be seeing them in AMC venues.
So says AMC honcho Adam Aron, who on Tuesday sent a pointed letter to Universal Studios chairman Donna Langley, according to the Associated Press, in which he said AMC would ban from its theaters all future movies released by Comcast-owned Universal.
His letter Tuesday came just hours after remarks by NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, who had disclosed to the Wall Street Journal the impressive revenue numbers from the studio’s release of Trolls: World Tour. The movie was the first major theatrical release to move to streaming platforms, on April 10, after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered theaters nationwide.
Shell said Trolls: World Tour had made more than $100 million in revenue (it could be purchased for $19.99) in its first three weeks of release. The original Trolls had made just $16 million more in its first three weeks of its theatrical release, in 2016.
Shell further said that NBCUniversal would continue to release movies “on both formats” (theaters and streaming) even after movie theaters re-open, prompting the response from AMC’s Aron.
The AMC chain of movie theaters, Aron said in his letter, won’t “meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact.”
“AMC is willing to sit down with Universal to discuss different windows strategies and different economic models between your company and ours,” Aron said in the letter. “However, in the absence of such discussions, and an acceptable conclusion thereto, our decades of incredibly successful business activity together has sadly come to an end.”
Universal then counter-punched, issuing a statement of clarification.
“We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary. As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theaters, as well as on PVOD (Premium Video on Demand) when that distribution outlet makes sense,” the statement said.
PVOD refers to the price mark-up that studios charge for a theatrical release that makes an early move to streaming. Recent examples, under circumstances influenced by COVID, include Birds of Prey and Bloodshot.
The NBCUniversal statement went on to say that "our goal in releasing Trolls: World Tour on PVOD was to deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home, while movie theaters and other forms of outside entertainment are unavailable. Based on the enthusiastic response, we believe we made the right move.”
AMC is the largest U.S. cinema chain.
Regal Entertainment, the No. 2 exhibitor, didn’t immediately respond to the AP’s request for comment. Cinemark, the industry’s No. 3, declined to comment.
Universal’s statements regarding Trolls: World Tour also drew fire from the theater operators’ trade group, the National Association of Theater Owners.
NATO issued a statement saying “unfortunately, Universal has a destructive tendency to both announce decisions affecting their exhibitor partners without actually consulting with those partners."