NBCUniversal Boss Defends Expedited Movie Access in the Home

Long before Warner Bros. decided to release its entire 2021 theatrical movie slate (beginning with Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day) into the home and cineplex simultaneously, Universal Pictures made waves generating more than $100 million in premium VOD revenue early in the pandemic releasing animated sequel Trolls World Tour into homes instead of on the big screen.

The studio then slashed the 90-day theatrical window down to 17 days. Instead of affording exhibitors three months of exclusivity, Universal offered to revenue-share PVOD sales with accommodating movie chains such as AMC Theatres and Cinemark.

What is clear about the film business is that while the rest of the entertainment business evolved in a rapid way across the world, the film business stayed stuck in the mud on the traditional theatrical windowing basis, says Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, parent of Universal Studios.

Speaking Dec. 8 on the virtual the virtual UBS Global Investor confab, Shell said the traditional release window ignored a market segment of consumers who love movies, but who either don’t go to the theater as often or prefer to watch new releases in their home.

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“Somebody gets excited about a movie that weekend, can’t get a babysitter, and decides they’ll see it in a couple months or next year on HBO,” Shell said. “We, as a movie company, did not serve those customers. And that is not the right way to maximize what is the Rolls Royce content of the entertainment business. We’re leaving a lot money on the table [ignoring $19.99 PVOD].”

Shell said Universal Pictures remains a staunch advocate of the moviegoing experience, including driving to the cineplex and watching content on a big screen with enhanced sound the way filmmakers intended viewers to consume the content.

“I think when the pandemic ends, it’s going to be a bit like the roaring ’20s, when you’re not going to want to be at home anymore,” Shell said. “The idea of sitting at home in your apartment on a Friday night watching Netflix is going to be less appealing.”

But he said the studio is also cognizant to the reality about changing consumer habits watching movies, including on portable devices. Shell reiterated that to Universal, the transactional business model of movies remains of primary importance.

Shell admitted he has been outspoken advocating for the collapse of the theatrical window, arguing it brings enhanced value to the overall business, including theaters.

“There are a lot of people who want to watch a movie in a non-premium way, which is in the home” he said. “I think theatrical will continue to thrive and as more windows collapse … more money is going to made by everybody involved in the movie business. And it’s better for consumers.”

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