Now this is game changer.
Or is it?
In the wake of the national shutdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, a.k.a. the Coronavirus, Universal Studios announced that they will forego an exclusive theatrical release for their new animated sequel Trolls World Tour on April 10 and, in addition, make it available for Video-On-Demand rental the same day.
In addition, and prior to that date (possibly as soon as this Friday), current Universal theatrical releases will also be made available on VOD, such as The Invisible Man, The Hunt, and Emma. All of these movies will continue to play theatrically as scheduled in whatever theaters continue to remain open.
It’s a surprising turn, to be sure, if not entirely shocking given the circumstances. Universal has likely determined that this route will best mitigate whatever financial losses they expect to suffer for these titles.
More importantly, it’s likely the best case scenario to test something that studios have long wondered but been able to truly test, given their contractual relationships with theater chains: can VOD releases of big budget titles be just as financially successful as theatrical releases?
The instant response on Film Twitter was predictable, i.e. that this will be the historical watermark when everything finally changed. In hindsight, March 16, 2020 will be the day that theaters died.
Hold your horses, media pundits.
This will be a fascinating test case, no doubt, but a look at the numbers suggests it won’t be the slam dunk pivot point that the conventional wisdom seems to think it will be.
The rental rate will be $19.99 per film, to be viewed within a 48 hour window. By contrast, that’s actually a great rate compared to hauling the entire family clan to the multiplex.
However, when you compare it to the rental rate of $3.99 for the average home video title, or to the numerous options available through the subscriptions for Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more, that $19.99 rate starts to look pretty steep.
I expect this to go well for Universal, and likely for other studios that may choose to follow suit, but at $19.99 I don’t anticipate this will provide a gigantic financial windfall (at best it will reduce loss), or that it will be the industry game changer that much of the instant knee-jerk hyperbolic armchair punditry expects it could be.