Theater owners on March 17 took a swipe at plans by some studios to bypass the traditional theatrical release window and make new films immediately available for home viewing as a means of contending with the closure of theaters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) issued a statement blasting the practice, although the group was careful not to blame the studios but, rather, “speculation in the media that the temporary closure of theaters will lead to accelerated or exclusive releases of theatrical titles to home streaming.
“Such speculation ignores the underlying financial logic of studio investment in theatrical titles,” the NATO statement said. “To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world.
“While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal. When those titles are rescheduled, they will make for an even fuller slate of offerings than normal as they are slotted into an already robust release schedule later in the year.”
Universal Pictures on March 16 announced the immediate release of its current theatrical slate into home entertainment distribution channels, at a premium price of just under $20. Movies include The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma, among others.
The DreamWorks Animation Trolls sequel Trolls World Tour, distributed by Universal Pictures, will now hit theatrical and home entertainment channels on April 10. Titles will be available on assorted digital channels for a 48-hour rental period at $19.99 each.
A day later, on March 17, Variety reported that Warner Bros. is prepping the early (March 24) transactional video-on-demand release of Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, featuring Margot Robbie as the DC Comics antihero. The film was released theatrically less than two months ago.
The NATO statement noted that “as the virus takes hold in different regions at different times and in varying degrees of severity, people and public health officials are grappling with decisions about when to close public-facing businesses and when to restrict personal activity. As with other businesses that serve large groups of people, movie theaters have faced voluntary and mandated restrictions and closures. The majority of movie theaters have now closed.
“This industry will continue to meet its responsibilities to the public and will abide by public health mandates and adapt to local conditions. Our partners in movie distribution have postponed major new releases in response to the Coronavirus situation in markets around the world. Other titles beyond the immediate horizon have not changed their release dates.”