AMC Theaters announced that the theater chain will no longer screen Universal’s films following comments by NBC Universal CEO Jeff Shell that the studio plans to release more films day-and-date both theatrically and on video-on-demand.
“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice,” AMC Theaters CEO Adam Aron said. “Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East. This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theaters reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat.”
Shell said in a Wall Street Journal story that the animated film “Trolls World Tour” made $95 million in digital rentals in the 19 days since its release. The film was planned for theatrical release but was moved to digital release in March as thousands of theaters were forced to shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell said. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
Universal possibly abandoning the long-held theatrical window prompted a response from the National Association of Theater Owners.
“Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases,” said NATO president and CEO John Fithian. “Theaters provide a beloved immersive, shared experience that cannot be replicated – an experience that many of the VOD viewers of this film would have participated in had the world not been sequestered at home, desperate for something new to watch with their families. We are confident that when theaters reopen, studios will continue to benefit from the global theatrical box office, followed by traditional home release.”
AMC’s termination of its relationship with the studio means it will no longer screen Universal blockbusters that need a theatrical release to make back their enormous production and marketing costs, like “F9,” that was moved to May 2021 because of the pandemic.
“AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theaters simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies,” Aron wrote. “It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us. It also presumes that Universal in fact can have its cake and eat it too, that Universal film product can be released to the home and theaters at the same time, without modification to the current economic arrangements between us.”
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