In a landmark deal that could change the shape of film distribution, AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures have agreed on a pact to release big Hollywood films in the home much sooner than before.
AMC and Universal this week announced a deal to dramatically shorten the traditional minimum gap between a movie’s theatrical release and its availability for home viewing to less than three weeks.
Under the deal, theaters will have exclusive rights to show Universal movies for at least three weekends, or 17 days. After that period, the Comcast Corp.-owned studio will have the option to rent out its movies through video-on-demand platforms.
That’s a significant change from the norm, in which major films aren’t released for home viewing until an average of 90 days after their big-screen premiere.
AMC, owned by China’s Dalian Wanda Group, will get an undisclosed cut of revenue from the digital releases, the companies said.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The pact between AMC — which is the world’s largest cinema operator — and one of the major movie studios is the first of its kind.
The movies will be available for a 48-hour rental period on digital retailers such as iTunes, Amazon Prime and YouTube, as well as on Comcast-owned video-on-demand platforms and AMC’s own movie-selling site, AMC Theatres on Demand.
Universal did not disclose pricing, but current early video releases, known as “premium video on demand,” go for about $20.
The companies said the deal is a way to preserve the theatrical film industry while also responding to changing consumer demands in the streaming era.
“The theatrical experience continues to be the cornerstone of our business,” Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Donna Langley said in a statement.
AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron said the company “enthusiastically embraces this new industry model,” adding that “Universal and AMC each believe this will expand the market and benefit us all.”
The agreement has the potential to resolve one the biggest disputes between the nation’s theater owners and movie studios.
Theater chains have long resisted efforts by studios to shorten the release gap, known as the theatrical window, because they viewed such moves as a threat to their business model.
But studios, including Universal, have long favored the shortened window, contending that viewers want to be able to watch their movies at home sooner.
During the COVID-19 pandemic that has grounded the major exhibitors, Universal Pictures, led by NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell, charged ahead with early digital releases in a way that angered theater owners, including AMC.
The company in mid-March announced plans to move its theatrical releases to digital retailers, charging $20 for a 48-hour rental of movies, including “The Invisible Man” and “Emma.”
In its boldest move, Universal released its DreamWorks Animation sequel “Trolls World Tour” for online viewing on the same day as its planned theatrical release. Shell later declared the “Trolls” experiment a success and said the studio would pursue similar releases for its future movies.
In response, AMC blasted Universal for going around theaters and said it would no longer show the studio’s movies in its 1,000 global locations, which include 630 cinemas in the U.S.
This new deal, however, benefits both sides, the companies said.
The agreement comes at a time when AMC’s entire U.S. circuit remains shuttered because of the continued spread of the coronavirus.
Major chains including AMC, Regal and Cinemark have been waiting for studios to release new movies in hopes of drawing patrons back to the multiplex. However, the public health crisis has forced studios to delay their premiere dates.
Warner Bros. on Monday said it wouldn’t release its Christopher Nolan film “Tenet” until Labor Day weekend in “select cities.” Walt Disney Co. last week postponed plans to release its live action “Mulan” remake indefinitely.
It remains to be seen whether Universal will strike a similar deal with other major chains, or whether other studios such as Warner Bros., Walt Disney Co., Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures will try to replicate the pact.
The deal doesn’t mean that every Universal movie is coming to the home after less than three weeks.
Some movies will probably have longer exclusive theatrical runs before going to premium video on demand. A global blockbuster such as “Fast & Furious 9” or “Jurassic World: Dominion” will likely benefit from staying only in theaters longer because of the high production budgets and big-screen appeal.
Other genres could gain from shorter windows, especially comedies and rom-coms, which have struggled to draw large cinema audiences in recent years.
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