'Trolls World Tour'— the first major studio movie to smash a theatrical tradition — tops iTunes, but doesn't signal doom for movie theatres

Dreamworks‘Trolls World Tour’ hit digital platforms on Friday and is the top movie on iTunes.
  • Universal’s “Trolls World Tour” debuted on premium video-on-demand platforms on Friday and was the No. 1 movie on iTunes on Sunday.
  • The movie is the first from a major studio to break the traditional theatrical window and premiere day-and-date on digital or streaming platforms during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Experts say the rise of digital releases right now is just a short-term solution to the current situation as movie theatres across the US remain closed.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Trolls World Tour” has made a splash with its debut on digital platforms, but that’s not necessarily bad news for movie theatres.

The animated sequel from Universal Pictures and DreamWorks was the No. 1 movie on iTunes on Sunday. It premiered on premium video-on-demand platforms on Friday as a $US20 digital rental, the same day that it was slated to hit theatres. With most theatres closed across the US due to the coronavirus pandemic, “Trolls World Tour” is the first movie from a major studio to break the traditional theatrical window and premiere on digital platforms day-and-date with its theatrical release.

It won’t be the last movie to break theatrical traditions.

Disney announced earlier this month that “Artemis Fowl,” based on the book series by Eoin Colfer, would premiere on its streaming service Disney Plus on an undisclosed date. The movie was originally slated for release to theatres on May 29. Former Disney CEO Bob Iger, who is transitioning into an executive chairman role to focus on Disney’s creative endeavours, told Barrons last week that “there may be a few more [movies] that we end up putting directly onto Disney Plus.”

But Iger also noted that Disney will wait for release slots for its big tentpole movies and its this sentiment that suggests that the current popularity of digital releases won’t have long-term consequences for movie theatres.

Other movies that were released to digital platforms after a short stint in theatres, like “The Invisible Man” and “Bloodshot,” were also popular on iTunes and Fandango Now (though they have already dropped out of the top 10 on iTunes). But experts say this is because it’s the only option at the moment.

“The measures being taken right now are because of the unforeseen circumstances,” Paul Dergarabedian, the Comscore senior media analyst, told Business Insider. “And consumers have an appetite for new content. We are literally stuck at home.”

Technology and media research firm Lightshed Partners pointed out in a recent report that for studios to replace the profits they make with high-grossing movies through premium video-on-demand services, tens of millions of units would have to be sold.

“You quickly realise just how big the PVOD transactions need to be for the maths to work for a studio,” the report said.

In another report, Lightshed Partners did credit Universal for dropping “Trolls World Tour” on digital but said that it’s a low-risk experiment for families stuck at home. Long term, PVOD could struggle once theatres reopen, especially given that audiences can watch movies on Netflix at no extra cost, the firm said.

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