Trolling! Universal Pictures Versus AMC & National Association Of Theatre Owners Over TROLLS: WORLD TOUR

It would seem like the great Trolls: World Tour test is now trapped in a serious good news/bad news scenario. 

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Universal Pictures decided to pivot from a theatrical release to VOD. All eyes were on the studio to see how the film would perform. Now The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the film has earned around $95 million in rental fees since its release three weeks ago. Studios normal only get 50% of ticket sales from a theatrical release but, Universal will score roughly 80% of rental fees – meaning a $77 million return.

NBCUniversal head, Jeff Shell was very happy with the performance saying “The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD. As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

This means the studio will be releasing more and more films on VOD with the aim of scoring more profit by cutting out the middleman (the theatres). 

This has angered AMC Theaters chairman-CEO Adam Aron, who penned the following response:

“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.

This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theaters reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat. Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way, it also extends to any movie maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us, so that they as distributor and we as exhibitor both benefit and neither are hurt from such changes.

Currently, with the press comment today, Universal is the only studio contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo. Hence, this immediate communication in response. Universal’s unilateral pronouncements on this issue are unpalatable to us, as has always been the case, AMC is willing to sit down with Universal to discuss different windows strategies and different economic models between your company and ours. However, in the absence of such discussions, and an acceptable conclusion thereto, our decades of incredibly successful business activity together has sadly come to an end.”

The National Association of Theatre Owners also threw their hat into the ring, with president and CEO John Fithian saying:

“Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases. Theaters provide a beloved immersive, shared experience that cannot be replicated – an experience that many of the VOD viewers of this film 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.”

These are tense times and everyone is on edge. With cinemas across the world closed, all involved must be keeping a keen eye on how things will work-out once the pandemic clears. It’s likely that cooler heads will ultimately prevail, but at the minute it looks like battle lines have been drawn and Universal, AMC and The National Association of Theatre Owners are preparing for war.