As COVID-19 takes its toll on the movie theater business, content providers are taking advantage of their streaming pipelines. Comcast’s NBCUniversal said Monday that Universal Pictures will “make its movies available in the home on the same day as their global theatrical releases.”
The very idea of a “global theatrical release” has been compromised by the global pandemic. In the United States, national chains Regal and AMC have shut down, following the lead of cinemas in other major markets, like China.
In light of the theater shutdown, NBCUniversal said some of its first-run movies would be “made available on-demand at the same time they hit those theaters that remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Beginning withTrolls World Tour, April 10, it will make movies slated for theatrical release available for on-demand rental. The company said that movies that are currently in theatrical release will be available on demand “as early as Friday March 20.” That would include Universal’s The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Emma.
Comcast’s Peacock streaming service is due to launch widely next month. In the meantime, “movies will be made available on a wide variety of 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,” the company said. The announcement was made by NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell.
In a statement, the studio said “given the rapidly evolving and unprecedented changes to consumers’ daily lives during this difficult time, the company felt that now was the right time to provide this option in the home. 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.”
On Sunday, a day before the NBCUniversal announcement, Disney+ made that studio’s Frozen II available for streaming three months ahead of its scheduled streaming start date.
It remains to be seen if major distributors will follow NBCUniversal’s lead, allowing new movies to stream on the day of their scheduled theatrical release. Most have dealt with the crisis by pulling their major titles from theaters and postponing their release.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the National Association of Theatre Owners said it did not expect many movies to open exclusively on streaming platforms or arrive there early, while movie theaters are shut down.
“While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal."
At this point, the group’s statement said, “the majority of movie theaters have now closed.”