COVID Movie Rentals – Musings

The movie industry is going through a tough time these days. Movie theaters are closed during the summer blockbuster season when billion dollar box office hauls make up for the huge losses from those Adam Sandler films. Things are getting desperate enough to cause the studios to experiment, or dare I say, innovate.

Movies go through a very specific rollout. 90 days in theaters, then up for digital purchase and Blu-ray for $20, then digital rental for $6. Finally, the movie will be on the streaming services. AMC and Cinemark have strictly defined the 90 day window to protect their popcorn sales, but the studios haven’t been too bothered by it since they get at least four chances to make some money on Adam Sandler.

But now all of that is out the window. Universal was the first to crack with Trolls World Tour. That movie never hit theaters. Instead, it was released as a $20 digital rental, effectively replacing the 90 day theatrical run. It was a huge success. In three weekends, it made almost $100mil. And given the better revenue splits, they pocketed about as much as if it had made $300mil in the theaters. Who knows what the impact will be down the line in the other release windows, but it was so successful AMC immediately pushed out a press release banning all Universal movies from their theaters.

That ban was short lived, though. Just this week, AMC and Universal made a deal to shorten the 90 cinema window to just 17 days. So after 3 weekends, you’ll be able to buy the movies on iTunes.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Disney announced today that Mulan will also skip theaters, but will cost $30 for a rental. And because they like money, it’s only available to DisneyPlus subscribers already paying $6/mo. Will it work as well as Trolls? We will find out on September 4.

I find all of this fascinating as these massive companies struggle to find new solutions. If Mulan fails, what does that mean for Black Widow? Warner Bros is sitting on Tenet, the “only in theaters” masterpiece that will supposedly bring folks back to the cinemas. Their strategy has been to keep pushing the movie back two weeks and hope this whole thing blows over. Maybe we’ll see it next summer.

If anyone goes in for the $20 or $30 rental, let me know. If you compare the cost of a family of three going to the movies, it’s a bargain. I will probably wait until the normal rental window for most movies, but they might get me with Black Widow. Bastards.

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