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

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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