Omicron Surge Impacts Movie Business With Smaller Theater Audiences 

Has the recent jump in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant kept U.S. movie fans from heading to the theater?

New survey data from Whip Media suggests it has. 

Whip Media — after surveying more than 1,200 American users of its TV Time app, a free TV and movie tracking app with more than 20 million global users — found the Omicron surge has had a direct impact on the habits of movie fans. 

Jeni Hatfield Benhain

The key takeaway: 57% of respondents said they have skipped going to see a movie in theaters due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

This holds true for both regular moviegoers as well as those who rarely make it to the movies; of the 611 frequent moviegoers surveyed — defined as those who went to the cinema at least once per month before the pandemic started — 58% said they’ve passed on going to see a movie in the theater that they were interested in. 

There’s also been a major shift in how fans approach films they are undecided about seeing. Whip Media’s survey found 69% of respondents are more likely to purchase and watch a movie in their home they’re “on the fence” about, rather than go to watch it at a theater. 

This is a stark increase from just last summer, when a comparable Whip Media survey found about 50% of respondents said they were more likely to purchase and watch a movie at home that they weren’t sure about. Studios appear to be watching this shift closely, too, with big-budget films like Morbius, starring Jared Leto and Michael Keaton, having its release date pushed back from late January to April 1. Disney has also changed its strategy for its upcoming Pixar release Turning Red, ditching its theatrical release in favor of an exclusive showing on Disney+ beginning March 11. 

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Whip Media’s survey results come as other polls have found concerns over COVID-19 have increased in recent weeks. One Gallup poll, conducted between Jan. 3 and Jan. 14, found 56% of Americans have avoided large crowds in the past week due to their fear of catching the coronavirus; that’s a higher percentage than at any point since vaccines have become widely available last spring, according to Gallup.

Still, there are signs of optimism from moviegoers. Nearly 60% of respondents said they are “likely” or “very likely” to go see a movie in the theater within the next six months. 

That figure could increase in the next few weeks, too, if the Omicron surge peaks and then starts to decline. Data this week from New York City, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. (among other major American cities) shows the seven-day average of cases has declined — suggesting the Omicron wave may have already crested. 

And one thing, of course, that’ll help drive fans back to the theater is a blockbuster movie they feel they have to see on the silver screen. We’ve already seen this with Spider-Man: No Way Home, which has climbed to $1.69 billion at the global box office since being released in December 2021. 

The best bet to shake off Omicron fears and have a strong box office performance is The Batman. The latest Dark Knight flick — starring Robert Pattinson and set to come out on March 4 — looks poised to drive fans to the theater. Of more than 1,000 respondents who said they are interested in seeing The Batman, 61% said they prefer to see it in a movie theater — the highest percentage of any major film coming out in the next few months. 

Jeni Hatfield Benhain is director of data solutions at Whip Media, whose enterprise software and data platform enables media companies to efficiently distribute, control and monetize their TV and movie content to drive revenue and direct-to-consumer growth. With her extensive knowledge of consumer audience analytics, she is charged with developing data-driven growth strategies for the world’s largest entertainment organizations including major SVOD services, networks and studios. 

Beatles ‘Get Back’ Documentary DVD, Blu-ray Release Delayed

The Blu-ray Disc and DVD release of The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s acclaimed documentary on the legendary British rock band that became a streaming hit on Disney+ as a three-part miniseries, had been slated for Feb. 8 but has been delayed due to a technical issue, a Disney spokesperson announced Jan. 31. A new street date is pending.

The initial release date was slated for nine days after an hour-long concert film of the group’s iconic 1969 rooftop concert was released at select Imax theaters on Jan. 30, the 53rd anniversary of the performance atop the Apple Corps’ Savile Row headquarters.  The concert film includes a Q&A with director Jackson, who said in a statement, “I’m thrilled that the rooftop concert from The Beatles: Get Back is going to be experienced in Imax, on that huge screen. It’s The Beatles’ last concert, and it’s the absolute perfect way to see and hear it.”

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The concert, which is included in the documentary, will be digitally remastered with proprietary Imax DMR (digital remastering) technology.

The Imax event will be followed by a global theatrical run of the 60-minute concert film Feb. 11-13.

The Beatles: Get Back covers the making of the Beatles’ 1970 album Let It Be, whose working title was Get Back. Originally conceived as a feature film, The Beatles: Get Back was expanded into three episodes with a total runtime of nearly eight hours. The docuseries, which premiered on Disney+ on Nov. 25, was compiled from nearly 60 hours of unseen footage shot over 21 days, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 1969, and from more than 150 hours of unheard audio, most of which has been locked in a vault for over half a century, according to a press release.

[Originally Posted Jan. 5, 2022; Updated Jan. 31, 2022]

Sony Acquiring ‘Halo’ Video Game Developer Bungie for $3.6 Billion

Sony Interactive Entertainment Jan. 31 announced it has entered into definitive agreements to acquire independent video game developer Bungie, whose properties include the “Halo” and “Destiny” franchises, for $3.6 billion.

The deal aims to give Sony access to Bungie’s approach to live game services and technology expertise. Bungie will continue to operate independently.

Based in Bellevue, Wash., with more than 900 employees, Bungie is currently focused on the long-term development of Destiny 2, expanding the Destiny universe, and creating entirely new worlds in future IP.

“We’ve had a strong partnership with Bungie since the inception of the ‘Destiny’ franchise, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to officially welcome the studio to the PlayStation family,” Jim Ryan, president and CEO of SIE, said in a statement.

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Ryan said the transaction is an important step in Sony’s strategy to expand the reach of PlayStation system to wider audiences.

“Like Bungie, our community is core to PlayStation’s DNA, and our shared passion for the gamer and building the best place to play will now evolve even further,” he said.

Post-acquisition, Bungie will be an independent subsidiary of Sony Interactive Entertainment and run by its Board of Directors chaired by Pete Parsons and Bungie’s current management team. The transaction is subject to certain closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.

“In SIE, we have found a partner that fully supports us and wants to accelerate our vision of creating meaningful entertainment experiences that span generations, all while valuing the creative independence that is the heartbeat of Bungie,” said CEO Pete Parsons.

The executive believes the deal will unlock more than just new gaming properties.

“Our original universes have immense potential, and, with Sony’s support, we will propel Bungie into becoming a global multi-media entertainment company dedicated to delivering on our creative vision” Parsons said.

Sci-Fi Film ‘Last Words,’ Drama ‘Home’ and Romcom ‘Funny Thing About Love’ on Gravitas Ventures’ February Disc Slate

The drama Home, the romantic comedy Funny Thing About Love and the apocalyptic sci-fi drama Last Words are being released in February on DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Gravitas Ventures.

Directed by Franka Potente, Home, available Feb. 1, follows an ex felon who returns home from prison and must confront the demons of his past. It stars Jake McLaughlin, Kathy Bates, Aisling Franciosi, Lil Rel Howery and Stephen Root.

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Also due Feb. 1 is Funny Thing About Love, directed by Adam White. The story follows Samantha Banks, who is a successful businesswoman with a handsome fiancee. Over one crazy Thanksgiving holiday with her scheming family, her whole world is thrown into a tailspin when they invite her ex-boyfriend, “the one that got away.” The film stars Jon Heder, Barry Corbin, Summer Bellessa, Kevan Moezzi, Jason Gray, Brooke White, Pat Finn, Alaina Beauloye, Taylor Moriarty, Brady Ellsworth and Landen Adams.

 

Available Feb. 15 is Last Words, directed by Jonathan Nossiter and starring Nick Nolte, Stellan Skarsgard and Charlotte Rampling. In the film, it is 2085, and a young man, one of the few survivors of the human community of old, embarks on a long voyage to find others.

 

 

Doc ‘100 Years From Mississippi’ Due for Digital Sale and on VOD Feb. 1 From Virgil

The documentary 100 Years From Mississippi will be released on VOD and for digital purchase Feb. 1 from Virgil Films.

The film chronicles the experiences of Mamie Lang Kirkland, who was 7 years old when she fled Ellisville, Miss., in 1915 with her mother and siblings as her father and his friend John Hartfield escaped an approaching lynch mob. Hartfield returned to Mississippi in 1919 and was killed in one of the most horrific lynchings of the era.

Mamie’s son Tarabu had grown up hearing stories of Hartfield but didn’t know if his mother’s stories were fact or folklore until one day in 2015 when he discovered an article describing Hartfield’s murder before a crowd of 10,000 spectators.

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Mamie had vowed for a century that she would never return to Mississippi. Yet with Tarabu’s remarkable find, he urged his mother to finally confront her childhood trauma by returning to Ellisville. Mamie was 107 when they began the journey to connect her story to the larger impact of America’s legacy of racial violence, which echoes today from Ferguson to New York, Atlanta to Los Angeles. Like many of the 6 million African-Americans who left the Deep South, Mamie’s story is a testament to the courage and hope of her generation. Her indomitable will and contagious joy of living come through as she tells her story 111 years later. 

AMC Networks, Comcast Reach New Multiyear Distribution Agreement — That Includes Streaming

AMC Networks and Comcast Cable Jan. 31 announced a new multiyear distribution agreement that includes continued carriage of AMC Networks’ linear networks and expanded availability of its targeted streaming services (Acorn TV, AMC+, etc.) to Xfinity TV and broadband customers. AMC+ was first launched to Xfinity customers in the summer of 2020 and has grown rapidly since.

“We are excited to continue and also expand our longstanding partnership with Comcast through a new agreement that includes not only continued carriage of our cable networks, but also our fast-growing targeted streaming services,” Josh Reader, president of distribution and development for AMC Networks, said in a statement.

Reader said 2022 would be the biggest year of original programming in AMC’s history with final seasons of “The Walking Dead” — the highest-rated series in the history of cable television — “Killing Eve” and “Better Call Saul.” The year will also feature a wide array of new series, including the courtroom drama “61st Street,” “Dark Winds,” “Tales of the Walking Dead,” “Moonhaven” and the first two series in an Anne Rice universe, “Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire” and “Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches.”

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Gravitas Ventures Picks Up N.A. Rights to Doc ‘The End of Medicine’

Gravitas Ventures has acquired North American rights to distribute the documentary The End of Medicine.

The company plans for an early summer release in theaters and in homes.

Executive produced by Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix, The End of Medicine explores the link between treatment of animals and emerging health threats such as pandemics and antibiotic resistance. Documentary filmmaker Keegan Kuhn (Cowspiracy, What the Health) and BAFTA Award-winning director Alex Lockwood (73 Cows, Test Subjects) teamed up with Mara and Phoenix to create the documentary about zoonotic diseases (germs and viruses that spread between human and non-human animals), which threaten the health and lives of the entire human population.

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The End of Medicine began production in October 2019, months before COVID-19 was making headlines around the world. It includes interviews with some of the world’s leading scientists whose research and testimonies conclude that the public health emergency we are presently facing was inevitable and is far from over.

“We are pleased to serve as executive producers of The End of Medicine to raise awareness about the third leading global cause of death — antimicrobial resistance,” Mara and Phoenix said in a statement. “We became fans of director Alex Lockwood after seeing his BAFTA-winning documentary short 73 Cows, and were touched by his thoughtful and determined approach to storytelling. Together with producer Keegan Kuhn (Cowspiracy, What the Health), The End of Medicine explores how dangerously close the human population is to complete antimicrobial resistance, the government’s complicity and collaboration with the animal agriculture industry, and how unprepared we are for what’s to come if we continue to ignore the evidence around us. The animal agriculture industry props up its business of keeping thousands upon thousands of animals housed in soiled conditions by the overuse of antibiotics. We cannot exploit and manipulate other animals on a massive scale without corresponding and terrifying consequences.”

“We have been frustrated with the failure of mainstream media to properly address the threat of disease coming from animal agriculture, both before and during the current pandemic,” said Lockwood and Kuhn. “The End Of Medicine is an alarm bell and warning of what is to come if we don’t change.”

The End of Medicine is an incredibly timely documentary with an important message that directly addresses the relationship between the treatment of animals and pandemics. Gravitas is proud to be able to share it with audiences,” Brett Rogalsky, Gravitas Ventures manager of acquisitions, said in a statement.

Netflix Picks Up Worldwide Rights to Documentary ‘Descendant’

Netflix has acquired worldwide rights to Participant’s feature documentary Descendant.

Higher Ground, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, will present the film, alongside Netflix.

Descendant follows members of Africatown, a small community in Alabama, as they share their personal stories and community history as descendants of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to illegally transport human beings as cargo from Africa to America. The ship’s existence, a centuries-old open secret, is confirmed by a team of marine archeologists. The film explores implications of the Clotilda’s discovery for the descendants, who grapple with their heritage while claiming the power to shape their own destinies.  

The film, a Night Tide production, in association with Two One Five Entertainment and directed by Margaret Brown, premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and received the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Creative Vision.

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“I have been humbled and honored to spend four years with the residents of Africatown as they seek justice and reconciliation for what happened in 1860, and what is still happening today,” Brown said in a statement. “I am excited that through Netflix and Higher Ground’s global reach, audiences around the world will learn this powerful history.”

This is the tenth film or series that Netflix and Participant have collaborated on, including American Factory with Higher Ground. 

‘Matrix Resurrections’ Rises to Top of Weekly Vudu Chart

Warner Bros.’ The Matrix Resurrections topped the chart of the 10 most-popular titles on Fandango’s transactional digital service Vudu the week ended Jan. 30.

The fourth film in the “Matrix” franchise, which debuted in theaters and on HBO Max, became available for premium digital purchase and rental Jan. 25. It follows up on the trilogy that ended in 2003 and features Keanu Reeves returning to the role of Neo as he learns about the aftermath of the war between humanity and the machines he thought he ended in the previous films, and whether his reality remains part of a computer simulation. His mission becomes to reconnect with his lost love Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss).

Universal Pictures’ animated sequel Sing 2 fell from the top spot to No. 2 on the chart. The Illumination film, which became available for premium digital rental Jan. 7, follows the animal singers as they plan a new show and try to persuade the world’s most reclusive rock star, Clay Callaway (voice of Bono), to join them. The film also features the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and Taron Egerton.

Dropping to No. 3 from No. 2 on the chart was Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which became available for digital purchase Jan. 4. The franchise relaunch from director Jason Reitman and producer Ivan Reitman is a sequel to the two 1980s “Ghostbusters” movies. It follows a single mom and her two kids who arrive in a small town and begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters.

Landing at No. 4 was the latest James Bond flick No Time to Die, available for digital purchase and rental. The Universal/MGM film stars Daniel Craig in his last turn as the iconic spy.

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Debuting at No. 5 on the chart was The 355, a spy action thriller starring Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o. It is available for premium digital rental.

Also new to the chart for the week was IFC Films’ Clean (No. 9), starring Adrian Brody. The suspense drama, which follows a garbage man who gets caught up with the local crime boss, is available for digital purchase and rental.

Vudu’s top 10 titles for the week ended Jan. 30, in terms of revenue, were:

  1. The Matrix Resurrections
  2. Sing 2
  3. Ghostbusters: Afterlife
  4. No Time to Die
  5. The 355
  6. Dune
  7. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
  8. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
  9. Clean
  10. Clifford: the Big Red Dog

New Preschool Series ‘Pretzel and the Puppies’ to Debut on Apple TV+ Feb. 11

Apple TV+ has announced a new animated preschool series “Pretzel and the Puppies” will premiere Feb. 11.

Based on the book “Pretzel” by Margret and H.A. Rey, creators of “Curious George,” the original series is a new story about the modern dog family led by stay-at-home dad Pretzel, his five Dachshund puppies, and mom Greta, the mayor of Muttgomery.

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The series features the voice talents of Mark Duplass (“The Morning Show”), Nasim Pedrad (“Saturday Night Live”), and newcomers Milo Stein, Alex Jayne Go, Max Mitchell, Amari McCoy and Gracen Newton.