Universal Pictures is the winner of the pandemic when it comes to making good business decisions. They were ahead of the pack when they decided to delay F9 by a full year instead of a couple of months. They also decided to move all of their then in theaters movies to VOD, but the big decision was to put Trolls World Tour straight to VOD. It was seen as a gamechanger of a movie and one that was extremely forward-thinking. It turns out that the primary reason behind the move was that the merchandise and tie-in stuff was too in motion to delay, and Universal didn't have much of a choice, according to a CNN Business interview with Donna Langley, chairwoman of Universal's filmed entertainment group.
"We had a big consumer product program on the film, and there was just no way that we could move it out of the year," Langley said. "We really wanted to get it out there to our audience. So, yes, we made the bold decision to put it into the home and use the digital marketplace to be able to do that."
The decision to put Trolls World Tour ended up working out for Universal in a big way and made the movie one of the most important movies of 2020. It was the first time a movie skipped theatrical and appeared to have made back its budget. However, movie theaters were not happy with this decision, and AMC boycotted all future Universal titles. However, as the pandemic dragged on and more studios were forced to either delay their movies or put them on VOD or streaming, the writing was on the wall. AMC eventually backed down, and it put Universal in the position to broker a deal, shortening the theatrical window of Universal movies from 70-90 days to 17 days.
"I think the biggest risk that we took in 2020 was putting 'Troll's World Tour' into the home… It was a bold move. It was a necessary move, and it was a move that ultimately yielded this historic deal," Langley said. "At the time, we had no line of sight into what the outcome might be. And there was a period of time where we were called to the mat by exhibition, in the press and our competitors thought that we were crazy."
Cinemark has since gone on to make the same deal with Universal, and Focus Features, an offshoot of Universal, has the same deal. That means that people will have easier access to limited release movie that come out of studios like Focus. Trolls World Tour ended up being a pretty good movie, but there is no telling how it would have done at the box office. It probably would have made its money back and then be forgotten by the time May rolled around, lost in the sea of summer blockbusters. However, the decision that Langley made to put the movie on VOD, motivated b merchandise that was too far into production to stop it may be, has changed the landscape of movies as we know it.
Trolls World Tour, directed by Walt Dohrn, stars Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, Kelly Clarkson, Anderson Paak, Sam Rockwell, George Clinton, and Mary J. Blige.