A war of words is raging between AMC Theatres and Universal after the success of 'Trolls World Tour' on digital platforms

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  • The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Universal’s “Trolls World Tour” is a hit on digital platforms, making $US95 million in rental fees since it debuted day-and-date with its planned theatrical release on April 10.
  • “As soon as theatres reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told the WSJ.
  • In response, AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron said that the company would not be playing future Universal movies, a policy that “extends to any movie maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us.”
  • Universal issued a response later on Tuesday evening, saying that it believes in the theatrical experience and accused AMC Theatres and the National Association of Theatre Owners of a “seemingly coordinated attempt” to “confuse our position and our actions.”
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“Trolls World Tour” has sparked a conflict between the biggest movie-theatre chain in the world and the movie studio Universal Pictures.

The animated movie has become a hit on digital platforms.The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that it has generated $US95 million in rental fees and $US77 million in revenue domestically. Universal released “Trolls World Tour” to premium video-on-demand services day-and-date with its planned theatrical release on April 10. Most theatres across the US have been closed since mid-March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The movie’s success prompted NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell to sing its praises.

“The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of [premium video on demand],” Shell told the WSJ. “As soon as theatres reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

“Trolls World Tour” was the first movie from a major studio to be released day-and-date with its initial theatrical release, breaking the traditional theatrical window where cinemas are granted exclusive screenings of movies for up to 90 days before they are released on digital or streaming platforms.

Universal isn’t the only studio finding alternatives right now. Disney is sending “Artemis Fowl” straight to its Disney Plus streaming service and Warner Bros. is releasing the animated “Scoob!” to PVOD services. But no other studio has hinted that it would perhaps abandon the theatrical windowing model once theatres reopen.

Shell’s comments didn’t sit well with AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron, who sent a letter to Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chair Donna Langley refusing to play future Universal releases “in any of our theatres in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.”

Here’s what he said:

“This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theatres reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat. Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way, it also extends to any movie maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us, so that they as distributor and we as exhibitor both benefit and neither are hurt from such changes.”

Universal issued a response on Tuesday evening, saying: “We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary. As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense.”

The studio also accused AMC Theatres and the National Association of Theatre Owners of a “seemingly coordinated attempt” to “confuse our position and our actions.”

Universal distributes the “Fast and Furious,” “Jurassic World,” and other big money-making movies, so it’s hard to believe a compromise won’t be reached that benefits both parties. For the most part, studios have committed to theatres during the shutdown, postponing major releases to later dates. That includes Universal, which delayed “Fast and Furious 9” nearly an entire year until April 2021.

The last two “Fast and Furious” entries, “Furious 7” and “The Fate of the Furious,” both earned more than $US1 billion worldwide. Last year’s spinoff, “Hobbs and Shaw,” grossed $US760 million globally. Both AMC Theatres and Universal would be hit hard if next year’s ninth instalment weren’t released in AMC’s 1,000 theatres around the globe. “Jurassic World: Dominion” is also set for release next year, which could be another $US1 billion-grossing movie.

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