Trolls World Tour has now been out on VOD streaming for 19 days. After first announcing that they were moving up the release date, Universal pivoted when theaters started closing. Instead of delaying the film for release when things calmed down, they would release the film to VOD streaming the same weekend it was scheduled to release in theaters. The film has done very well, according to Universal Trolls World Tour has grossed around $100 million since going live on April 10th. Universal is so impressed that they are now saying that when theaters do reopen, they expect VOD streaming to go hand in hand with a theatrical release, according to an article published in the Wall Street Journal today (subscription required). They are already calling this the "new normal" in Hollywood.
Theater Owners Are Fuming
In response to the Trolls World Tour situation, NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) has come out with a blistering statement published by Deadline. Seriously: they don't hold back:
"This performance is indicative of hundreds of millions of people isolated in their homes seeking entertainment, not a shift in consumer movie viewing preferences. It is not surprising that people under shelter-in-home ordinances for weeks on end with increasingly limited entertainment options would take advantage of the movie's direct-to-VOD move to keep children entertained, even at a premium price. Universal heavily marketed the title as a theatrical release, in theaters and elsewhere, for weeks on end. That is unlikely to recur in normal times, and those costs haven't been disclosed. While Universal may be pleased with the PVOD results of Trolls World Tour, this outcome should not be interpreted as a sign of a 'new normal' for Hollywood."
"Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases," said NATO president and CEO John Fithian. "Theaters provide a beloved immersive, shared experience that cannot be replicated – an experience that many of the VOD viewers of Trolls World Tour would have participated in had the world not been sequestered at home, desperate for something new to watch with their families. We are confident that when theaters reopen, studios will continue to benefit from the global theatrical box office, followed by traditional home release."
Universal is doubling down. Apart from releasing The Invisible Man, The Hunt, and Emma early to streaming, they have already announced that the new Judd Apatow film The King of Staten Island will skip theaters and release on VOD streaming June 12th. Trolls World Tour is seemingly just the start of a real shift in how studios and theatrical exhibitions do business.