COVID-19

Universal, movie theaters fighting over digital releases

Jasmine Garsd Apr 30, 2020
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Will movie theatres see the same rebound after quarantine as they did after the Great Depression? Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Universal, movie theaters fighting over digital releases

Jasmine Garsd Apr 30, 2020
Will movie theatres see the same rebound after quarantine as they did after the Great Depression? Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Just because movie theaters are closed, doesn’t mean you can’t find drama there. 

Universal — the studio behind “Minions” and “Jurassic Park” — are in a fight with some of the biggest theater chains in the country: AMC and Regal. It’s a new twist on an old Hollywood debate: When things get back to normal, will movies still play on the big screen before you can watch them at home? 

It all started with a bunch of trolls. The animated kind. Usually, movie theaters play films for a few months. After, you can rent that movie online.  

But COVID-19 shut movie theaters down. Studios pushed some movies straight to streaming, like Universal’s “Trolls World Tour.” And it reportedly made over $100 million — a hit. 

With millions of Americans quarantining with their kids, of course they paid 20 bucks to rent “Trolls,” said Mike Hodel, an analyst with Morningstar.

“I don’t think you can prove anything with the ‘Trolls’ release and the success of that, but I do think it gives the studios some increased confidence that they can evolve how they go to market over time,” Hodel said.

Confidence enough for Universal to talk about a future where movies may get released in theaters and online at the same time. Movie theater chains were not happy about that. They’re worried fewer people will visit when they can just watch a movie at home instead.

So AMC retaliated by banning all Universal movies from its chain. Regal said it would only show movies that are big-screen exclusives. None of the companies replied to our requests for comment.

Studios get a bigger cut from digital releases than in-person tickets, so losing out on a family’s worth of box office sales may still make sense for studios like Universal. 

“There’s something about a theater,” said Arun Sharma, marketing professor at University of Miami. “There’s lots of folks who love to take their families to the theater, especially for movies which will have large audiences.”

Like Universal’s now-postponed “F9,” the latest in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. People who love seeing Vin Diesel’s muscles in IMAX 3D can’t do that at home.

“Post-Great Depression movie theaters rebounded. Post-WW2 movie theaters rebounded,” said Shawn Robbins, an analyst with Boxoffice Pro.  “Those stock market crashes in the last few decades, movie theaters rebounded. I think that really is the expectation.”

Because after months stuck at home streaming, that big screen might look more appealing than ever.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

It’s still the question on everyone’s minds: What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The $600-a-week payments have ended, officially, as of July 31. For now, there is no additional federal pandemic unemployment assistance. House Democrats want to renew the $600 payments. Senate Republicans have proposed giving the unemployed 70% of their most recent salary by this October, when state unemployment offices have had time to reconfigure their computer systems to do those calculations. Until then, jobless workers would just get another $200. But, nothing has been signed into law yet.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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