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

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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