Cinema chains boycott Universal Studios over decision to release films online

Universal Studios cited the success of 'Trolls World Tour' when it announced that even after the pandemic, it would release films in cinemas and online simultaneously

This image released by DreamWorks Animation shows characters Branch, voiced by Justin Timberlake, right, and Poppy, voiced by Anna Kendrick in a scene from "Trolls World Tour." (DreamWorks Animation via AP)
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Some of the world's leading cinema chains have banded together in a boycott of Universal Studios after a public corporate brawl erupted over the release of the film Trolls World Tour.

Universal, one of Hollywood's largest and oldest studios, has found itself in hot water with cinema chains after it announced its intentions to release films through cinemas and streaming services at the same time, even after coronavirus restrictions are  lifted.

AMC, the US’s largest cinema chain and the owner of a number of international operators, was the first to announce its intention to boycott the studio over the move, and said it would refuse to show Universal movies. The National Association of Theatre Owners and Cineworld, the second-largest cinema chain in the US, have joined the chorus calling for a boycott.

The public battle came after NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Shell trumpeted the success of the decision to release Trolls World Tour directly to video on demand, after the Covid-19 outbreak nixed the film's planned global cinema roll-out.

Shell claims the decision to release the film online netted the studio $95 million (Dh348.8m), and told The Wall Street Journal that "as soon as theatres reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats", meaning their films would henceforth be released in cinemas and online simultaneously.

Trolls World Tour was released three weeks ago as a premium video-on-demand title, priced at $19.99 through services such as Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.

However, cinema chains did not take kindly to this new revelation.

According to Deadline, AMC chief executive Adam Aron wrote to Universal chair Donna Langley, saying: "We want to be absolutely clear … AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theatres simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies."

“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 theatres in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.”

AMC said the ban would apply to all of its 1,000 outlets worldwide when they reopened after the lockdown.

The company is currently pursuing a huge expansion project in Saudi Arabia.

In an almost simultaneous, though apparently not co-ordinated move, The National Association of Theatre Owners released a similar statement on Universal's announcement, saying that the success of Trolls World Tour was "indicative of hundreds of millions of people isolated in their homes seeking entertainment, not a shift in consumer movie viewing preferences."

The statement insisted that this should not be "interpreted as a sign of a ‘new normal’ for Hollywood", and that "Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases".

Cineworld then added its voice to the chorus, saying it too would boycott Universal films. A statement said that the studio "unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the Covid-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas".

It's an uncertain time for the film industry at present, with studios across the world being forced to postpone release dates for upcoming films, to ensure audiences will be able to see them in their favourite movie theatres.

Films including the next chapter in the James Bond franchise, No Time to Die, the thriller A Quiet Place 2, and the sequel to Wonder Woman have all pushed back their release dates in response to the pandemic.