Odeon bans all Universal Pictures films as studio skips cinema releases

Odeon Cinemas has banned screenings of all films from the Fast & Furious maker Universal Pictures after the studio said it would break with tradition and skip releasing some films in cinemas, instead making them directly available on streaming and on-demand services.

Adam Aron, the chief executive of AMC Theaters, the world’s largest cinema chain operator and owner of Odeon, said the ban would apply to its 1,000 outlets worldwide when they reopened after the coronavirus lockdown.

The bitter row follows comments made by NBCUniversal, trumpeting the success of the Trolls World Tour film. The company controls the Hollywood studio and is in turn owned by Sky’s parent company Comcast.

The DreamWorks-made animated film is the most high-profile of a series of titles that Universal Pictures intended for cinema release but instead went straight to streaming.

The film, released three weeks ago, has reportedly generated $100m (£80m) as a premium video-on-demand (PVOD) title, priced at $19.99, with 5m rentals on services such as Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.

Universal gets a greater cut of revenue from streaming services than cinema box office take, which means the film has made it the same amount of money as the first Trolls film did during its entire run in US cinemas.

As cinemas go dark, the film industry may go straight to Netflix

“The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” said Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, earlier this week. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

The comments have incensed cinema owners who see the studios as using the coronavirus lockdown to test the sacrosanct tradition of the “theatrical window” that Netflix rails against.

Cinemas have traditionally enjoyed being at the top of the pecking order for newly released films, with a three-month exclusivity period before they are released on other platforms such as pay-TV and DVD, in a strategy to maximise the value of every movie.

Aron has fired off a letter to Universal Studios’ chair, Donna Langley, accusing the company of “breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies”.

He said: “AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East. It also extends to any movie-maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us.”

The studio intends to forge ahead with this tactic, announcing on Monday that Judd Apatow’s new Pete Davidson-led comedy The King of Staten Island would scrap its planned cinema release on 19 June and premiere on-demand instead.

However, Universal has rescheduled most of its major films for cinema release later this year, such as the next instalments in the Minions and Purge franchises, as have the other major Hollywood studios.

Universal Pictures responded to AMC saying that it would look beyond cinema premieres for titles only “when it makes sense”.

“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 theaters, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense,” the company said.

“Our goal in releasing Trolls World Tour on PVOD was to deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home, while movie theaters and other forms of outside entertainment are unavailable.”

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