Recently, Universal announced that due to the success of Trolls World Tour, it is heavily considering releasing all of its films in theaters and VOD on the same day. Unsurprisingly, movie theater chains are not happy. For the better part of the past decade, streaming services like Disney+ were able to happily coexist with movie theaters and not really hurt the business. The way studios react during the pandemic could change this going forward.
The major difference between Universal’s decision and something like Disney+ is that Disney makes content specifically for streaming, as well as movies meant to be seen in theaters. Disney+, along with other popular streaming services, is not directly threatening the movie-going experience, but rather adding another option. For a lot of movie fans across the globe, streaming is an easier and less expensive way to watch a film. If given the choice, many people would choose to experience a movie in the comfort of their own home rather than in a public theater. Of course, if all films have the option to stream, box office numbers would most likely plummet further down than they already have.
Universal Pictures has always been a major studio and is the home of huge franchises like Fast and Furious and Jurassic Park. Movie theaters rely on blockbusters like these for a majority of their ticket sales. Since streaming first kicked off, audiences generally were leaving their homes mainly for the major tentpole releases. These event films have all generated a huge profit for movie theater chains. Now that Universal is looking to stream all of its films while still in theaters, cinemas are likely going to suffer dramatically. Disney films usually still pull in a ton of revenue in theaters, partly because every movie does not have the option to stream.
Disney is planning to release Artemis Fowl on Disney+,which was originally set for a theatrical release, and it’s currently streaming the recently released Onward. The difference between this and Universal’s announcement, however, is that for Disney, it’s just a direct reaction to the coronavirus crisis. For Universal, this seems to be a permanent change. A war has been waging between theaters and streaming platforms since the early 2010s, but now, streaming finally may be able to defeat theaters for once and for all as the most prominent way to watch a film. Universal realizes that a film can be just as or even more successful with a day and date VOD release. The need for a theater may be obsolete in its eyes. Disney appears to be interested in keeping cinemas alive, without fully disrupting its release schedule. Once our current crisis eventually subsides, Disney will likely return to normal and release big feature films in theaters only. On the other hand, Universal seems intent on making this the new normal.
There is one other option for Universal, though. As Disney+ chooses to adapt to the current crisis without hurting the future of movie theaters further, Universal could very easily go the same route. NBCUniversal is launching Peacock, its new streaming service, on July 15th. If Universal were to follow suit with Disney and only release new movies via Peacock until the pandemic calms down, the studio would probably not be making enemies of the theater chains.
After the crisis is over, a portion of the public will still be hesitant to go to crowded places. If people are still given the option after life returns to normal between going to the movies and streaming a new release from their home, it doesn’t seem unlikely that the general public will choose streaming. Universal gives the impression that it is fine with that notion, but Disney seems to be trying to continue its success during this strange time while still wanting movie-going life to return to normal.
Universal Studios plans to continue a day and date VOD release for all its new upcoming releases, but Disney+ is taking a softer approach.