For about 6 weeks now, cinemas have had their doors closed due to the ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic. It’s been a tough time for those who go to the cinema, but especially for staff who work there as some were initially let go with no pay whatsoever. Well, now another massive spanner has been thrown into the works as AMC which owns Odeon has come out to say that due to Universal releasing a film onto streaming instead of waiting for cinemas to open again for a traditional theatrical release, these chains will no longer be showing their films. But who is in the right?
The film in question is Trolls: World Tour. Yes, you read that right. The decisions being made in the head offices of some of the world’s biggest cinema chains that will affect the distribution, sales, box office takings, bonuses, pay, pay raises, and future running of said cinemas is over Trolls. Are they trolling us with Trolls?
The reason for such a brutal decision is that Universal was so pleased with the results of the film hitting homes that it is now considering releasing films simultaneously at home and in cinemas. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said this week, “The results for Trolls: World Tour exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD (Premium Video on Demand). As soon as theatres reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron came in with a swift response in the form of an open letter part of which stated, “This radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment. Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theaters globally on these terms.” Since then Regal Cinemas owner Cineworld Group has said stated that they want to see studios respect the theatrical release window and not take advantage of the current crisis. As it stand Cineworld will still be showing Universal films for now.
The problem right now is that cinemas cannot make any money from films unless they have their own streaming service like BFI or Curzon. A lot of small cinemas and chains are asking the public to support them by purchasing memberships and gift cards, a smart move to make money when it’s needed the most. By refusing to show films from Universal, Odeon will not be screening franchises like James Bond, Fast and Furious and Jurassic World all of which are consistently huge box office hits. Universal is betting big on people wanting to stay in to watch their films as Trolls: World Tour did so well, but can lightning strike multiple times? This is what the studio wants to consistently happen; to keep bringing in the dough with both at home and in theatre screening, but there is no guarantee of that at all. Going to the cinema is a unique collective experience where you cheer, gasp, laugh and cry as a huge a group. Watching these films at home won’t compare to the joy you feel when you’re in a packed screen.
However these cinemas certainly need to wise up and not be so flippant when it comes to the decisions studios make. It’s wrong to refuse to play films from a huge studio when that is your bread and butter. Even with releasing them simultaneous, cinemas will still be earning something rather than nothing. Cinema going has been on the rise with the end of 2018 being the biggest it’s been since the 70s just goes to show people still crave that experience. It seems it’s partly to do with these franchise films as 2018 and 2019 saw the culminating end of the MCU as we know it. Big films like Infinity War and Endgame put bums on seats as do the subscription services Odeon and Cineworld offer with their monthly unlimited movie membership cards which also brings in the cash. Will people continue to want to pay these fees each month when they can’t see their favourite films on the big screen? It seems that to disregard at least three big franchises from one studio is a fiscally irresponsible move.
Part of the issue is also the current choice we have in terms of streaming. Being locked indoors for a lengthy period of time means there’s a chance to catch up on all the shows and films you promised you’d watch. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and new kids on the block Apple TV and Disney+ all offer a wealth of content ready to be viewed at the push of a button. Plus these are cheaper than paying around £15 for one film. Take Disney+ for example, it has a staggering amount to watch (especially since the 20th Century Fox merger) which will keep adults and kids thoroughly entertained for £5.99 a month, which I believe is about the same price as Netflix whose USP is original shows and films. This will be yet another hurdle for Universal and any other studio looking to do this now and when things start to resemble normal. The competition is fierce out there with more and more bringing out streaming services with old content people love to watch over and over and new content people crave.
So, who is right? Well, they both sides have their guns and they are firmly sticking to them but neither is right and neither is wrong. Cinemas need films to bring people in, to buy the tickets, to pay for the monthly membership, to buy the snacks and the drinks. There was a slightly misguided tweet about this, which said something along the lines of cinemas don’t make money off of screenings, the make most of it through concessions. Whilst this might be true, without the films, no one will be munching on that popcorn. But studios do need cinemas to show their films, this is where people talk about their movie and they benefit from the best free marketing: word of mouth. More people talk about a film and the experience they had after going to see it at a cinema than whe they are sitting on their sofa. It just isn’t the same thing and can’t be compared. With 2019 having the biggest film of all time, why wouldn’t you want to have your film in the cinema for longer?
For now I think it is safe to assume that Trolls isn’t the start of the new new, it is a one off that did really well and got a studio thinking about its financial future. Nothing wrong with that but with the uncertainty of the movie releases right now and with some many productions on hold, who knows when we’ll see the likes of Fast and Furious and No Time to Die on the big screen. It seems that James Bond has a bit more time to die now.
Keep. It. Reel.