Days after Jeff Shell’s statements in the Wall Street Journal spurred AMC boss Adam Aron to embargo the studio’s films, the NBCUniversal CEO acknowledged the company’s commitment to theatrical, but that Premium VOD will still be part of the equation.
“The question is when we come out of this (pandemic), what is going to be the model? I would expect that consumers will return to the theaters and we will be part of that. And I also expect that PVOD is going to be a part of that in some way. It’s not a replacement, it’s going to be a complementary element. We’re just going to have to see how long that takes and where it takes us,” Shell said Thursday during Comcast’s Q1 earnings call.
“There’s no question that theatrical will some day be a central element to our business and film business — it’s how people make their movies and how they expect their movies to be seen,” said Shell.
“But the flip side is the majority of our movies, whether we like it or not, are being consumed at home. It’s not realistic to assume that we’re not going to change, that this part of the business isn’t going to change like all parts of the business are going to change,” he added.
The results for Trolls World won’t be realized for Comcast until Q2, in which they expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have a further impact on their film revenue results.
Shell is a longtime champion of crunching the theatrical window, and while he didn’t detail specifics to the WSJ in regards to how Universal would distribute films on theatrical and PVOD going forward, the intentions of his quotes were enough for Aron to fire off a public note to Universal Studios Chairman Donna Langley that the biggest circuit in the world would not play the studio’s films going forward, as long as they intend to crunch the window with a theatrical-PVOD day-and-date approach. Cineworld, which owns the U.S.’s second biggest chain Regal, lined up behind AMC in protesting Universal.
The NBCUniversal CEO continued on the decision to take Trolls World Tour into homes: “We’re in an unprecedented environment. We had a number of films, including Trolls [World Tour] that were ready to go. We had worked really hard on them and invested a lot of money in them. And we really had a choice: do we delay those movies to a time when we think theaters are going to be back open again –we did that with Fast and Minions– or do we sell them or move them to streaming — some of our other competitors have done that, or do we try something new to try and preserve the nature of movies, and that’s how we came up with the PVOD offering. First of all, I couldn’t be more pleased with Donna Langley and her team in how they executed, as the numbers you mentioned are really interesting. We provided consumers with a product they desperately needed at home, particularly if you have a bunch of 7 year olds and 5 year olds running around. And it was good for employees as it kept them working on something, and gave us an ability to make money on something that we were proud of.”
Interestingly enough, at the top of the earnings call, Comcast Senior EVP and CFO Michael J. Cavanagh had a more sobering and measured statement about how Comcast would approach the whole theatrical-PVOD windows situation following Trolls World Tour.
Said Cavanagh: “In response to these shutdowns, we immediately and proactively moved our theatrical films to a premium video on demand service. While we are very pleased with the PVOD success, the particular circumstances of each film are unique and we will determine our future distribution approach on a title-by-title basis.”