Universal has responded to AMC boss Adam Aron’s note tonight to Universal Studios Chairman Donna Langley in which he told the studio that the chain won’t be playing their titles at their global venues. Essentially Uni says they “absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and made no statement to the contrary.”
But, added Universal, “As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense,” a response that the major isn’t veering from Shell’s plan to break Hollywood distribution practices. Universal ended their note expressing that they’re “disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions.” You can read the rest of Uni’s statement below.
Aron took umbrage with NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell’s statements in the Wall Street Journal this morning in which he told the paper “The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD. As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
Some in distribution and exhibition think that Aron may have overreacted here to Shell’s statements; perhaps the exhibition boss misconstrued them or took them out of context. After all, actions speak more than words: Universal as a believer in theatrical did push F9 to next year, and yet they’re taking a more-TV centric title like The King of Staten Island starring SNL‘s Pete Davidson into homes instead of theaters. However, Shell is known as a longstanding champion of squeezing the theatrical window, and getting movies into homes sooner. He’s a cable guy, who came to Universal’s film division from Comcast in 2015. The thought by AMC and exhibition was that Trolls World Tour was a one-off exception at a time when they were all shut down, but they’re now threatened by windows collapsing once COVID-19 restrictions lift, and that will hurt their side of the business. Already, moviegoer surveys such as the one published on Deadline by Edward Norton’s EDO have indicated that they’ll be slow to return to cinemas post COVID — why do theaters need competition from studios in releasing movies?
One exhibition insider said today in response to the AMC mudslinging, “This is war — I haven’t seen it this bad since Disney hiked rental terms up before they started releasing the Avengers movies.”
AMC, like many exhibitors, remains in a truly precarious situation with many analysts believing the chain may go into bankruptcy. That is yet to happen, but we know that they’re re-negotiating leases with landlords like any theater owner is doing now. Can AMC really afford to refuse to play a big studio’s slate, especially at time when they’re starving for product? Universal has such movies as F9, Minions the Rise of Gru and Jurassic World: Dominion? (all scheduled for 2021 by the way).
By firing off a note to Universal tonight, AMC, as the exhibition leader, is drawing a line in the sand. Who is going to line up behind them? We’ve heard that behind the scenes Cineworld is irate with them. Cinemark is referring all press to NATO in regards to the AMC-Universal Trolls World Tour fight; the trade org twice expressing twice their frustration with the studio today over NBCUni’s victory lap on the DreamWorks Animation’s sequel $95M revenues.
Some are perplexed by why Aron addressed his note to Langley instead of Shell. Unfortunately exhibition, being closed, doesn’t really have the upper hand right now. They’re trying to get stimulus packages to cover their overheads. They can’t open as states like Georgia and Texas re-open because there’s no product coming from studios until arguably late July with Warner Bros.’ Tenet and Disney’s Mulan. On top of that, movie theaters have to contend with safety restrictions, capacity limits when they return and the hope that people show up.
Still, why are exhibitors so mad at Universal when it comes to releasing Trolls World Tour into homes? Why not be ticked off at Warner Bros. with Scoob? Or Disney with Artemis Fowl? Both of those titles switched distribution course and opted to skip theaters for a home release.
Sources tell me that Uni just had bad timing when it came to its abrupt decision to put Trolls World Tour into homes: Just as exhibition was on their knees, and forced to shutter around the globe out of safety from COVID-19, Uni went ahead and decided on a PVOD plan for Trolls World Tour. For exhibition, they saw the sequel as a potential $150M domestic money maker for them.
Here’s Universal’s response to AMC’s letter tonight:
“Our goal in releasing Trolls: World Tour on PVOD was to deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home, while movie theatres and other forms of outside entertainment are unavailable. Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move. In fact, given the choice of not releasing Trolls: World Tour, which would not only have prevented consumers from experiencing the movie but also negatively impacted our partners and employees, the decision was clear. Our desire has always been to efficiently deliver entertainment to as wide an audience as possible. We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary. As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense. We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions.”
Following Universal’s response to AMC, NATO slammed back at the studio over their accusation that the org was in cahoots with the theater chain over its note to Langley.
Said NATO, “Without any knowledge of the facts, or the common courtesy to inquire about those facts, Universal nonetheless made the reckless charge this evening that the company is ‘disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions.’ Unfortunately Universal has a destructive tendency to both announce decisions affecting their exhibitor partners without actually consulting with those partners, and now of making unfounded accusations without consulting with their partners.”