- Universal Pictures announced Tuesday that it would pursue dual theatrical and on-demand releases for new films even after movie theaters reopen.
- Shortly after that, AMC Theaters condemned Universal’s plan and immediately blacklisted all of the studio’s future films from its screens.
- AMC CEO Adam Aron also accused Universal of having “zero concern” for how such a move would affect the theater chain’s revenue and viability.
- Wednesday morning, Regal Entertainment said it would also blacklist Universal movies.
- The moves by all three companies could result in a massive shift in the way Americans view movies and could be financially dangerous for all entities involved.
Universal Says It Will Continue On-Demand Releases
At the start of the year, many people probably wouldn’t have imagined that an animated film about troll dolls could ignite a war between a major movie studio and the world’s largest theater chain, but 2020 has proven itself unpredictable.
When movie theaters shut their doors in response to the coronavirus outbreaks in the United States, Universal Pictures decided to test on-demand releases for several of its new films, including Trolls World Tour. After seeing massive success with that film, Universal is now saying it will continue the practice once theaters reopen.
In turn, Adam Aron, CEO of AMC movie theaters, called the move “unacceptable” and said the chain has now blacklisted all Universal movies from airing on its screens. Wednesday morning, Regal Entertainment responded with a similar ban.
Universal, AMC, and Regal’s moves represent what could be massive shifts for the movie industry. Such moves also signal how the coronavirus pandemic might fundamentally change the way Americans consume entertainment.
Unlike movies such as F9, Black Widow, and Wonder Woman 1984, which were all postponed until either later this year or next year, Universal released the Trolls sequel through digital rental for $19.99.
While $20 is a steep price to pay for a rental, Universal argued the price was meant to compensate for the fact that the film didn’t see widespread release in theaters. Such a defense didn’t stop many on social media sites from criticizing the film’s price, but three weeks after its release, the film has proved to be an unprecedented success for Universal. It raked in nearly $100 million through on-demand 48-hour rentals.
So far, that is still less than the nearly $154 million the first Trolls film made in the U.S. over five months in 2016; however, because movie theaters generally take about 50% of the box office revenue, Universal only took home around $77 million from the first Trolls film domestically.
By contrast, Universal has kept about 80% of what it made through renting Trolls World Tour. Notably, that means the sequel is already more profitable than the original film.
“The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of [premium video on demand],” Jeff Shell, head of the film studio’s parent division, NBCUniversal, told The Wall Street Journal. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
Universal has also reported a level of success by implementing the same on-demand strategy with movies like The Invisible Man, The Hunt, Emma, and Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Reportedly, they have generated around $60 million from rental fees, meaning $48 million of that has gone directly back to Universal.
Before theaters shut down, The Invisible Man had brought in about $64 million in the U.S. and Canada. The other three had generated about $16 million, collectively.
AMC and Regal Won’t Play ANY Universal Movies
Following Shell’s comments, Aron retaliated by saying that AMC, the largest movie theater chain in the world, would pull the plug on all movies from Universal.
“AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theatres simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies,” Aron wrote in a statement on Tuesday.
“It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us. It also presumes that Universal, in fact, can have its cake and eat it too, that Universal film product can be released to the home and theatres at the same time, without modification to the current economic arrangements between us.”
“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice,” Aron added. “Therefore, effectively immediately, AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theatres in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.”
Wednesday, Regal Entertainment, the second largest theater chain in the world, called Universal’s decision “completely inappropriate” and said, “We make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows.”
Notably, that would mean AMC and Regal would not screen a host of films that are expected to be major box office hits, including F9, the James Bond film No Time to Die, and Jurassic World: Dominion. F9 alone is expected to bring in close to $1 billion worldwide, if not more, and crippling its theatrical release could prove to be a major blow for Universal.
Still, these moves represent a precarious balance for both companies. Universal likely wants to continue its success from Trolls World Tour and adapt to what it believes is a more profitable model. Meanwhile, AMC and Regal want to retain their customer bases and are likely concerned that dual theatrical and on-demand film releases could hurt them. Despite that, not showing a major studio’s films could be a huge blow to the chains.
Still, Aron has double-downed on his statement and said it 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, Aron said. “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’s announcement has also received the condemnation of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), which has argued that the success of Trolls World Tour is an outlier and not a new normal.
“Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases,” NATO president and CEO John Fithian said in a statement Tuesday. “Theaters provide a beloved immersive, shared experience that cannot be replicated—an experience that many of the viewers of this film would have participated in had the world not been sequestered at home, desperate for something new to watch with their families.”
Part of NATO’s argument is that Trolls World Tour was released at a time when parents were desperate to provide entertainment for their children. That was likely aided by the fact that Trolls World Tour experienced very little competition, as many other studios chose to postpone new releases.
Universal has since responded to the criticism lodged at it by AMC and NATO while reiterating its plan to implement dual theatrical and on-demand releases.
“Our goal in releasing ‘Trolls World Tour’ on PVOD was to deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home, while movie theatres and other forms of outside entertainment are unavailable,” the company said in a statement. “Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move. In fact, given the choice of not releasing Trolls: World Tour, which would not only have prevented consumers from experiencing the movie but also negatively impacted our partners and employees, the decision was clear.”
“Our desire has always been to efficiently deliver entertainment to as wide an audience as possible,” the statement continued. “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.”
Universal also added that it looks forward to having “additional private conversations with our exhibition partners but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions.”
Other Film Studios Choose On-Demand or Streamable Releases
Universal is not the only studio choosing to go the on-demand route. Warner Bros. is planning to release Scoob! on May 15 with a $19.99 rental fee. Notably, it will also be available to buy right away for $24.99.
Other companies, such as Disney, have now shifted some of their movies to Disney+ instead of waiting for theaters to reopen. Artemis Fowl was originally scheduled for an Aug. 9 theatrical release, but the company will now release the film on its streaming service on June 12. Likewise, Disney also released Onward on Disney+ after its theatrical release was cut short. While those movies won’t be able to generate any direct revenue, Disney is hoping they drive the company’s $6.99 subscriptions.
Still, Disney seems to be saving its major releases like Mulan and Black Widow for theatrical releases.
In fact, even Universal has been wary to test its blockbusters through rental services. For films like F9, a theatrical release may simply be too profitable to pass up.
With such massive moves by Universal, AMC, and Regal, however, the question remains: Will the coronavirus pandemic change how Americans view movies, and if so, how?
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Hollywood Reporter)
Netflix Reinstates Employee Who Crashed Director-Level Meeting After Criticizing Dave Chapelle
Terra Field had publicly accused Chappelle of making transphobic remarks in his new stand-up special “The Closer” just days before she was suspended.
Netflix Reinstates Terra Field
Netflix reinstated a transgender employee who was critical of Dave Chappelle’s new stand-up special after suspending her for attending a director-level meeting without an invitation.
Terra Field tweeted on Tuesday that she was reinstated once the company determined “there was no ill-intent in” her decision to attend the meeting.
“I’m going to take a few days off to decompress and try to figure out where I’m at,” she added. “At the very least, I feel vindicated.”
Field also shared an email Netflix sent her regarding her suspension being lifted.
“Our investigation did not find that you joined the QBR meeting with any ill intent and that you genuinely didn’t think there was anything wrong with seeking access to this meeting,” the email said. “Additionally, when a Director shared the link it further supported that this was a meeting you could attend.”
Field’s suspension came just days after she tweeted a viral thread criticizing Chappelle’s latest program on Netflix, “The Closer.” She was one of many activists who claimed Chappelle’s set was transphobic and encouraged Netflix to take action. Field wrote that his comments attacked “the very validity of transness.” Netflix insisted those tweets had nothing to do with her suspension.
Field reportedly attended the director-level meeting with two other employees who were also suspended. A spokesperson for Netflix told Deadline that those two staffers have likewise been reinstated and the company “will be distributing broader guidance about meetings and clarifying which are for which people.”
Netflix’s Response to Dave Chappelle Controversy
Netflix, for its part, has defended Chappelle and rejected calls to remove “The Closer” from the streaming service.
“It never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Srandos wrote in an internal memo. “You should also be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do.”
“We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line,” he added. “I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
Among other things, Chappelle took time in his special to defend author J.K. Rowling, who previously faced backlash over a series of transphobic remarks she made. Chappelle said he agreed with Rowling.
“I’m team TERF,” he added. “I agree. I agree, man. Gender is a fact.”
Chappelle went on to make jokes about Caitlyn Jenner before comparing the genitalia of transgender women to Beyond and Impossible meat.
Many employees at Netflix are still frustrated with the way the platform has handled the controversy surrounding “The Closer.” According to The Verge, a trans employee resource group is planning a walkout on Oct. 20.
“Trans Lives Matter. Trans Rights Matter,” the group said in a memo. “And as an organization, Netflix has continually failed to show deep care in our mission to Entertain the World by repeatedly releasing content that harms the Trans community and continually failing to create content that represents and uplifts Trans content. We can and must do better!”
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Deadline) (The New York Times)
Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch May Have Abandoned Plans To Participate In TikTok NFT Program
Lil Nas X’s TikTok NFT was scheduled to debut a week ago and is still not available to the public.
Creators Allegedly Leave TikTok’s NFT Program
Musicians Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch may have quietly exited TikTok’s new NFT collection, according to a report from Rolling Stone.
TikTok first announced the line, which is called “TikTok Top Moments,” at the end of September. It involves a series of creator-led NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are unique and tradeable digital assets. TikTok’s NFTs can be purchased with the cryptocurrency Ethereum. According to a press release, the money will “largely go directly to the creators and NFT artists involved.”
TikTok said that creators like Poarch, Lil Nas X, Grimes, Curtis Roach, Brittany Broski, and more would be participating in the program. The company called NFTs an “empowerment tool” that will allow these creators to “be recognized and rewarded for their content.” It planned to debut the collection on Oct. 6 with Lil Nas X’s NFT, but that token has still not been made available. A source told Rolling Stone that it may never be released.
NFT Rollout Described as “A Mess”
The outlet also reported that Poarch is “actively contemplating pulling out of the program due to worries about its execution.” According to Rolling Stone, three sources familiar with the rollout of the program have described it as “a challenge,” “a mess,” and “a complete joke.”
Those sources claimed that in order to secure Poarch’s initial participation, TikTok offered her marketing support worth potentially $4 million for her next release. The company also allegedly promised to use one of her songs in an end-of-year campaign. A spokesperson for TikTok, however, described these claims as “not accurate.”
Neither Poarch nor Lil Nas X has commented on their participation yet. Meanwhile, TikTok declined to answer Rolling Stone’s questions about the status of their NFTs.
Some of TikTok’s announced NFTs have gone public, though. Throughout Tuesday, Roach’s “Bored in the House” video was up for auction on the platform Immutable.
NFTs took the internet by storm in early 2021, but their popularity peaked in May and declined throughout the summer. Celebrities, tech moguls, and everyday people featured in viral memes have hopped on the trend and made millions doing so.
According to Rolling Stone, TikTok has valued some of its own NFTs at $1 million. Now, it’s unclear if those tokens will ever hit the market.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Dexerto)
Ariana Grande, Bella Hadid, and Others Honor World Mental Health Day
A slew of stars acknowledged the day by sharing personal stories and making hefty donations to organizations that offer mental health resources.
Celebrities Donate to Mental Health Organizations
Major celebrities honored World Mental Health Day on Sunday by speaking candidly about their mental health struggles and donating to nonprofits.
Singer Ariana Grande announced that she is donating $5 million worth of free therapy through the online counseling platform Better Help. The star previously partnered with the company over the summer to give $1 million in therapy to fans and opted to throw more money at the program following its success.
“I acknowledge that there are very real barriers when it comes to accessing mental health resources, and while this is only one small gesture (and a much larger systemic problem remains) I wanted to do this again with @betterhelp in hopes of bringing access to a few more people and perhaps inspiring a few of you to try something new and prioritize your own healing,” Grande wrote on Instagram.
Those interested can sign up for a free first month of Better Help and get an additional 15% off the second month.
Model Bella Hadid also pledged to donate to mental health resources. She teamed up with the beverage company Kin Euphorics, which will donate 10% of its October sales to Gurls Talk, a nonprofit that gives adolescent girls a space to talk about mental health, along with various educational tools to aid those discussions. Hadid will match those donations.
“Dealing with mental illness for most of my life, bringing awareness to the education of mental health through my platform is something that I will continue to do until our mental is just as respected as our physical,” Hadid wrote. “I want everyone who struggles daily to know that you are not alone.”
Stars Share Resources and Personal Stories
Meanwhile, actress and singer Selena Gomez used her new makeup brand Rare Beauty to share statistics about the prevalence of mental illness and the efforts to combat it. The company, which has previously focused on several mental health initiatives, shared that just 1.3% of philanthropic investments go towards supporting mental health.
The company additionally cited information from an American Psychological Association report, which revealed that young people are particularly vulnerable to mental health struggles. It found that seven out of 10 Gen Z adults are more likely to report experiencing depression symptoms compared to other generations.
Gomez shared Rare Beauty’s post to her own story as well.
Singer Olivia Rodrigo similarly opened up about mental health and therapy during an interview with CBS that aired Sunday. In it, she said she has been in therapy since she was 16, which she believes has helped her both personally and professionally.
“That was a really big, life-changing moment,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about myself.”
“I think there’s sometimes a stigma around it, too, like I was saying,” the singer continued. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, you don’t need that. You have so much. Your life is so great. What are your problems?’ I think that’s definitely a thing that sometimes older people can do to younger people to kind of trivialize what they’re going through.”