NBCUniversal smashes theatrical windows with early VOD releases

DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls World Tour,” scheduled to hit theaters on April 10, will be available on the same day as a premium-priced on-demand option. (DreamWorks Animation)

NBCUniversal and other studios are breaking some normally sturdy theatrical release windows as coronavirus concerns are keeping consumers from going to movies.

The company announced that DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls World Tour,” scheduled to hit theaters on April 10, will be available on the same day as a premium-priced on-demand option. The movie will go out to many transactional VOD services at a suggested price of $19.99 for a 48-hour rental. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the studio’s current theatrical releases including “The Hunt” and “The Invisible Man,” along with Focus Features' “Emma,” will show up on VOD platforms as early as this Friday.

Warner Bros. feature “Birds of Prey,” which only opened about one month ago in theaters, is heading to VOD services next week. Last week, Disney announced that it was adding “Frozen 2” to its Disney+ streaming service about three months ahead of schedule.

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“No Time To Die,” the newest James Bond film, “Mulan” and “Fast & Furious 9” were all scheduled to hit theaters this spring, but have had their release dates pushed back.

RELATED: Editor's Corner—Chances of premium VOD for theatrical releases fade out

Shrinking theatrical release windows – which typically last between two and half to three months before electronic sell-through and physical releases – and slapping premium rental prices on newer movies has been a topic of discussion between studios and exhibitors for years. However, a consensus on pricing and duration has proven difficult to reach.

Now, though, with movie theater chains closing for extending periods to help ward off the spread of coronavirus, studios and theaters are reconsidering options. However, in the long-term, it may be too difficult for studios to match box office performance through direct-to-consumer releases.

Lightshed analyst Rich Greenfield crunched the numbers, and found that even at rental rates of $30 to $40, the math still might not work out for studios.

“We would love to be able to tell you that for $30-$40 you could watch Mulan or No Time to Die tonight in the comfort of your own home, while you are socially distancing yourself from other humans. However, when you look at the difficulty in replacing the planned profits studios expected to make with a fiduciary duty to talent using contracts that never anticipated a direct-to-consumer release strategy, we believe it is essentially impossible for studios to do anything beyond delay major movies until theaters re-open and life returns to normal,” wrote Greenfield in a blog post.

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