Movie Guru: Studios offer early streaming releases for ‘The Invisible Man,’ ‘Frozen 2’ & more
Since COVID-19 is keeping people from going to the movies, some big-named studios are bringing their movies to the people.
In a dramatic break from tradition, NBCUniversal is releasing three movies still in theaters — “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt” and “Emma” — to streaming services such as ITunes and Amazon Prime as early as March 20. The upcoming movie “Trolls World Tour” will be available to those streaming services on April 10, the same day the movie was planned to be released in theaters. Disney has done something similar, bringing “Frozen 2” to Disney+ a full three months earlier than originally planned.
The move is a solidly practical one, particularly for NBCUniversal. Both “The Hunt” and “Emma” have made almost nothing at the box office by this point, and despite its critical success “The Invisible Man” has only squeezed out a thin profit margin. All three movies will be streaming for $19.99 and will be available for a 48-hour window, where normally that price would allow people to purchase a permanent digital copy of the movie. That’s twice the price of the movie tickets people aren’t currently buying, so unless you’re planning on watching any of the above movies as a group, safely distanced, that’s a profit for the studio. Even with the streaming service taking a cut, it’s money they’re not getting anywhere else.
“Trolls World Tour,” on the other hand, is designed to be watched as a group. It’s the kind of movie that counts on families to meet its box office numbers, the same families that are even more sensitive to going out because of COVID-19. The simultaneous release is less about bolstering a struggling release and securing as large a one as possible. Here, the $20 rental price is a bargain when you think about buying tickets for a parent and two kids for a first-run movie. When you add in the fact that snacks are considerably cheaper at home, it’s going to make the movie even more tempting for families who might have otherwise avoided it.
Disney’s decision to release “Frozen 2” early is less a money issue than it is a timing and image issue. They’re not making any extra money off the decision, since it’s included in the monthly price people are already paying, but with the movie out of theaters it wasn’t making them any money anyway. With the move being portrayed as a gift to people trapped inside due to COVID-19, however, it does make them look generous. For a company like Disney, good PR can be more beneficial in the long run than more cash.
Whether these decisions will have a long-term impact on the way the movie business is run will depend on how successful they are. Streaming release might become a common way to strengthen flagging box office receipts, or even tweak bigger box office numbers. It might raise the rental cost for all streaming films. Disney’s decision has a more reliable future, undoubtedly increasing the popularity of Disney+ and giving them that much more reason to use it for exclusive releases.
However this plays out, it’s definitely one more reason to stay home the next few weeks.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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