Regal Owner Vows Not to Play Movies That Defy Streaming Windows

Cineworld joins AMC in opposing Universal’s decision to take “Trolls” movie directly to streaming

Last Updated: April 29, 2020 @ 10:05 AM

Regal Entertainment owner Cineworld Group has now chimed in on the controversy surrounding “Trolls World Tour” and AMC’s decision to no longer screen Universal Pictures films, saying that the theater chain will “not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows.”

Additionally, Cineworld called Universal’s decision to bypass a theatrical window for “Trolls World Tour” and instead go directly to PVOD (despite theater shutdown due to the coronavirus) “completely inappropriate” and that it “certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.”

AMC made the decision to essentially blacklist Universal after comments by Shell in a Wall Street Journal story published Tuesday morning that reported that “Trolls World Tour” made $95 million in digital rentals in the 19 days since its release. The film was initially planned for theatrical release but was moved to day-and-date with a digital release in March as thousands of theaters were forced to shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell said. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

“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,” AMC CEO Adam Aron wrote in a letter to Universal. “It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us. It also presumes that Universal in fact can have its cake and eat it too, that Universal film product can be released to the home and theatres at the same time, without modification to the current economic arrangements between us.”

Universal in a statement Tuesday said that “our goal in releasing ‘Trolls: World Tour’ on PVOD was to deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home, while movie theatres and other forms of outside entertainment are unavailable.  Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move… 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 theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense.  We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions.”

The comments also prompted a response from the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), who insisted that the unique circumstances brought about by the coronavirus pandemic should not be used as justification to reduce the theatrical window.

“Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases,” NATO president and CEO John Fithian said. “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.”

A spokesperson for Universal has not yet responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.

See Cineworld’s full statement below.

Cineworld’s policy with respect to the window is clear, well known in the industry and is part of our commercial deal with our movie suppliers. We invest heavily in our cinemas across the globe and this allows the movie studios to provide customers all around the world to watch the movies in the best experience. There is no argument that the big screen is the best way to watch a movie.

Universal 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.

Universal’s move is completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.

Mooky Greidinger, Cineworld’s CEO approached Brian Roberts, the Chairman of Comcast, back in 19th of March (after Universal announced that Trolls 2 would be released in breach of the window) and told him among other things that:

 “Nice words from your team are worthless if we cannot trust you as a partner.  The message that the media has portrayed is: “Hollywood breaks the window” – well, this is not true! All our partners called us in timely manner and told us that in the current situation they want to shorten window for movies that were already released as cinemas are closing, most importantly, they all reassured us that there will be no change to their window policy once the cinema business returned. Unfortunately I missed similar message in Universal’s announcement… not only did Universal provide no commitment for the future window – but Universal was the only studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released”.

 Cineworld’s roots go back 90 years in the industry and it was always open to showing any movie as long as the rules were kept and not changed by one sided moves. Today we make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us.

We have full confidence in the industry’s current business model. No one should forget that the theatrical side of this industry generated an all-time record income of $42 billion last year and the movie distributors’ share of this was about $20 billion.