Universal Expects to Continue Select Releases on Premium VOD After Theaters Re-Open

When Universal Pictures announced earlier this year it would be forgoing a theatrical release for “Trolls World Tour” and making it available on premium VOD for $19.99, many in the industry were forced to consider how the decision might change exhibition. Flash forward to three weeks into the “Trolls World Tour” PVOD release and it’s clear the film is a game-changer. A new report from The Wall Street Journal confirms “Trolls World Tour” has been rented 5 million times and has grossed $100 million in sales, netting Universal more revenue in three weeks than the original “Trolls” movie scored over five months at the domestic box office.

A key factor behind Universal’s success with “Trolls World Tour” on PVOD is that studios keep 80 percent of profits made from digital rentals and digital purchases, while they only retain approximately 50 percent from theatrical box office sales. Per WSJ, Universal has made more than $77 million in revenue from “Trolls World Tour” based on its $100 million in digital sales. The original “Trolls” grossed just under $154 million at the domestic box office, which translated into the same profit for Universal.

The domestic PVOD success of “Trolls World Tour” has Universal planning to continue on releasing select titles on PVOD even after movie theaters start re-opening. NBCUniversal film chief Jeff Shell said in a statement, “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.”

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Shell’s statement suggests Universal will pick and choose exhibition platforms for their titles, so it’s not like a major tentpole such as “F9” will automatically appear on PVOD in 2021. The studio has announced the Judd Apatow-directed comedy “The King of Staten Island” will skip theaters and launch on digital starting June 12. Universal also released titles such as “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” “Emma,” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” early on VOD. WSJ reports these titles have grossed a combined $60 million in rentals to date.

One important WSJ note is that “researchers at Universal found 51% of people who rented ‘Trolls World Tour’ said they would have ‘definitely’ seen the movie in theaters. About one-fifth said they rarely or never rent movies from digital services.” Universal remains one of the only major studios experimenting with PVOD right now. Other studios have sold off films to streaming platforms, such as Sony’s Seth Rogen comedy “An American Pickle” moving to HBO Max and Paramount’s “The Lovebirds” landing at Netflix. Disney canceled the theatrical release for “Artemis Fowl” and will debut the film on its streaming platform Disney+ this summer.

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