Trolling The Big Screen

Major studios and major theater chains have spent the quarantine trolling each other. The COVID Crisis has changed everything, and like after 9/11, things will never be the same. I mean, we’re still taking our shoes off in airports.

In case you didn’t hear, once theaters closed, Universal decided to release Trolls World Tour straight to on-demand. It did really well, making north of $90 million in its first three weekends. The success prompted the studio to declare it would start streaming more movies at the same time they hit theaters. Theaters, used to getting 2-3 months of exclusivity, aren’t fond of the idea. AMC and Regal quickly said they wouldn’t carry any Universal releases.

It’s rash and foolish on both parts.

Big Screen Drama

Universal had no need to make that announcement, and could have worked on a movie-by-movie basis rather than make a blanket statement. And it’s not like their big studio brethren rushed to support them. Other studios were happy to sit back, let Universal fight the battle and see how things end up.

As for the studios, they look like an unhappy kid on the playground, saying ‘I’m gonna take my $7 popcorn and $6 soda and go home.’ Now that both sides have staked out extreme ground, someone’s gonna have to give ground. In the end, both probably will.

But both sides ignore shifting realities in how we get our entertainment. And for once, it’s consumers that have the real power in a situation.

Stream Come True

It’s not like Coronavirus hit and the uneducated masses suddenly discovered streaming. Cable subscriptions are dropping by millions every year. It was one a matter of time until theaters started feeling the effects. If anything, the pandemic accelerated the inevitable.

Parents will love it. While Trolls is a solid movie (as kids movies go), most kids movies are pretty terrible. But good or bad, theaters always get an extra ticket sale from adults because someone has to chaperone the brood. Now they can drop $20 bucks to rent it for a day, put a couple bags of popcorn in the microwave, open a 2-liter of soda, and you can entertain 5 kids for $23 bucks in the family room while the ‘rents do whatever they want. They wanna watch it again? Great! That much more time occupied for $0 dollars.

Adults won’t mind either. While some movies with big action sequences like superhero films or flicks that are simultaneously fast and furious will be best experienced on a big screen with awesome sound, most movies are just fine on a big screen at home. Rom-coms like Isn’t It Romantic and teen hits like Booksmart lose nothing being seen at home. 

And while a trip to the multiplex on Friday night will still find lots of 18 and under customers, they aren’t packing ’em in like they used to. The coveted 25 and under crowd is streaming more than ever and skipping theaters except for ‘event’ movies like Avengers or Wonder Woman.

Big Screen Still a Big Deal

But Universal’s strategy is still shortsighted. While $90 million is a great number for a straight-to-video release, Trolls World Tour would still have made a ton more in a worldwide theatrical release. Yes, they saved money by not paying the theaters a cut, but they still have to give the online platforms their cut.

And despite streaming’s popularity as a disease-friendly option, people will want to get back out and do things. Movies are familiar. While social-distancing and cleanliness (an issue even in non-pandemic times) will make opening theaters more challenging, it’s a ritual that holds some familiarity. And people will want that again, just not as often as they used to.

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

Pretend your in a theater. Pour a coke into a large cup with a straw. Then pull a hidden flask filled with rum out of your pocket and dump it into the soda when no one is watching.


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