As COVID-19 takes its toll on the movie theater business, content providers are taking advantage of their streaming pipelines. Comcast’s NBC Universal told trade publication Hollywood Reporter Monday that 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.”
This is reportedly not a “blanket policy,” but would apply to selected movies. The magazine reported that “In addition to DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour, set to open in theaters April 10 in North America, NBCUniversal will also make movies that are currently in theatrical release available on-demand starting as early as Friday.”
That includes The Hunt, currently in theaters. Those theaters may not remain open for long. Regal said Friday it was closing its venues in the U.S.
Comcast’s Peacock streaming service is due to launch widely next month. In the meantime, the magazine reported, "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 announcement was made by NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell.
It remains to be seen if other major distributors will follow suit. Most have dealt with the crisis by pulling their major titles from theaters.
When actor-director John Krasinski announced Thursday that his movie A Quiet Place II would be postponed from its March 20 release, he cited COVID-19 and the way the new rituals of social distancing clashes with the traditional moviegoing experience.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that people have said our movie is one you have to see all together," said Krasinski, whose Quiet Place sequel had been tracking for a $70 million opening weekend before the coronavirus fallout.
"Well due to the ever-changing circumstances of what’s going on in the world around us, now is clearly not the right time to do that. As insanely excited as we are for all of you to see this movie … I’m gonna wait to release the film til we CAN all see it together! See you soon!” he told fans on social media.
Actually, Krasinski fans will be able to see him as much as they want next month when Comcast launches its streaming service Peacock, and you can watch Krasinski in The Office from a safe social distance.
That’s just one of the ways new and existing streaming services are poised to take up the slack left by the traditional movie exhibition model now under threat from coronavirus realities.
Disney+ took the lead, releasing “Frozen 2” on Sunday, March 15, three months early. Other popular services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu have their normal, robust slate of offerings. On Monday, March 16, Netflix is offering The Silver Linings Playbook, Pennsylvania’s favorite romantic comedy and a kind of dual comfort food for folks who’ll be missing out on sports viewing and, moviegoing.
And movie studios are bringing more services to market in the coming months, meaning consumers will soon have access to more viewing options.
Comcast will give its cable subscribers access to NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service April 15, and plans to put the service in wide release in July. Thus far, content to be available includes syndicated shows (The Office, and Parks and Recreation) and new programs, including the reboot of Saved by the Bell (starring Camden’s Dexter Darden).
WarnerMedia‘s HBO Max will roll out in May, and will offer most legacy and existing HBO programming (like Game of Thrones) and a new shows like DC Super Hero High, drawing from its DC Comics brand.
Financial analysts believe the price points of Netflix and other services — $5 to $15 a month based on configuration (some are ad supported, some are ad-free) — may have been a barrier to some consumers until now, but that may change as stay-at-home viewing becomes more appealing.
Piper Sandler analyst Michael Olson has issued a report targeting Netflix as a “near term beneficiary” with “coronavirus fears pushing consumers away from travel and out of-home entertainment.”
In their new ventures, Comcast and WarnerMedia hope for the kind of success that greeted Disney+, which accumulated 30 million subscribers (roughly on par with Hulu) in just three months, using its attractive catalog of popular movies (and brands like Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar), and the success of popular new shows like The Mandalorian, and joint-venturing with cable provider Verizon, which offered Disney+ to subscribers for free on a trial basis.
The service gives subscribers access to 500 movies and 7,500 TV episodes. And though COVID-19 threatens the traditional theatrical release model, services like Disney+ can continue with releases like Stargirl (March 13) and perhaps even add to the existing slate.
Analysts say recent developments could provide a boost in the U.S. for streamers like Netflix, which had seen its growth peak and flatten at 60 million subscribers (By comparison, bundled cable TV and satellite packages reach 85 million U.S. households).
The short-term social distancing advantages of streaming also help upstarts like Quibi (founded by former Disney and DreamWorks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg), which will commence operations April 6. Its original content includes a comedy series (Flipped) featuring Always Sunny star Kaitlin Olson and an adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game, starring Christoph Waltz and Liam Hemsworth.