The Coronavirus had already infected the box office in a huge way, but now one studio, Universal, is taking unprecedented steps in response. Universal has three movies currently in theaters, The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma, and all three will be available via On Demand channels as early as this Friday. What's more, the studio's next scheduled release, Dreamworks Animation's Trolls World Tour, will now be released in theaters and On Demand, on the same day, April 10.
All the movies will be available for 48 hour rentals at the suggested price of $19.99, so it will be significantly more expensive than your average new release rental that usually goes for five or six bucks, but considering we're talking about brand new movies that are still in theaters, it may be worth the extra money for those that are self-isolating to see the newest theatrical releases.
Needless to say, this is a huge move that, this is no exaggeration, has the potential to change theatrical releases forever. The idea of shrinking the theatrical window and potentially even releasing movies at home, for a premium, at the same time they were in theaters, is something that has been talked about for years, but the major theater chains have always pushed back against the idea, which has prevented it from gaining much traction. Now, it appears that it's really happening, and you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.
In a statement (via CNN) NBCUniversal said...
Given the rapidly evolving and unprecedented changes to consumers' daily lives during this difficult time, the company felt that now was the right time to provide this option in the home as well as in theaters. NBCUniversal will continue to evaluate the environment as conditions evolve and will determine the best distribution strategy in each market when the current unique situation changes.
If one wanted to be a bit mercenary about the whole thing (and why not, this is still a business), this seems like a win-win for the studios. If this doesn't work, if nobody takes advantage of the option to spend $20 to see a brand new movie at home, then the studio will simply go back to the old way of doing things once the current situation has passed, likely with minimal damage done to the relationship with the theaters. If, however, this is a success and the consumer is interested in this option, then it's time for the current model to go through some changes.
Of course, even if this doesn't become the new normal, you can be sure that theater chains like AMC and Regal are less than thrilled right now. They all are already being forced to limit attendance inside theaters in order to help with social distancing, and now, the next wide release movie those theaters were actually going to see, Trolls World Tour, is now no longer going to be exclusive to theaters.
This move follows Disney's decision to drop Frozen II on the Disney+ service only a couple weeks after it was released on Blu-ray. That decision will certainly eat into the movie's Blu-ray sales, but in that case Disney itself is the only company being hurt by it all. And it's getting serious goodwill points in the process. The Coronavirus situation is causing massive changes in the industry right now. The question that remains, is how many of these changes will persist after the current crisis has run its course?