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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell: PVOD Not Very Cannibalistic to Theatrical, Home Entertainment Markets

With movie theaters in California set to open to full capacity June 15, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell is upbeat about the exhibition business as it enters the important summer period. And with good reason. Universal Pictures is set to release on June 25 in the U.S. tentpole title F9: The Fast Saga.

The ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, with a $200 million production budget, has already generated $269 million in foreign revenue since launching on May 19 — including almost $204 million in China.

“It’s a big day tomorrow,” Shell said June 14 on the virtual Credit Suisse 23rd Annual Communications Conference. “[F9] is really the first big blockbuster post-pandemic, and we already have close to $300 million of box office revenue in the door. The movie is very satisfying if you’re a ‘Fast and Furious’ fan, which I am and was before I came here. And there’s a lot of life [left] in that franchise.”

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With the domestic F9 box office likely to top $50 million at the box office, Universal, per its new agreement with exhibitors, would open the theatrical window to at least 31 days. Universal could offer the movie into homes after just 17 days in theaters for a $19.99 digital rental (PVOD) if the box office falls below $50 million.

Shell said PVOD has been a success during the pandemic, with early signs that the distribution channel is not siphoning away packaged media and transactional VOD sales as initially feared. He said the studio was worried PVOD would cannibalize theatrical revenue, DVD, Blu-ray Disc and electronic sellthrough.

Those concerns extended to the sequel to 2017’s The Boss Baby, which generated $30.2 million in combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales. Universal is slated to debut the animated sequel, The Boss Baby: Family Business, on the Peacock streaming service and in theaters on July 2.

“The early data is that PVOD is not very cannibalistic to either channel,” Shell said. “We’re hitting a new market for the vast majority of people who [use] PVOD, and PVOD is very profitable to a movie studio.”

Indeed, the executive admits the margins surrounding PVOD are higher than in any other distribution channel. Shell said he doesn’t know what the future holds for early home entertainment access, but the detente reached with exhibitors on the issue is working.

“And right now, it appears to be, in many ways, an additive revenue stream for us and for others,” he said.

Shell said the studio decided to be opportunistic and not just experiment releasing Boss Baby 2 concurrently on Peacock, but expedite the movie’s chance to be “really successful” financially.

“I think there’s not a lot of movies like this coming in this [concurrent] corridor,” Shell said. “It [is] very much movie by movie situation. And you’re going to see a lot of that … people trying different things. And as we recover, depending on if the movie is more domestic or international, will drive a lot of those kind of changes market by market.”

Meanwhile, with the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics set to begin on July 23, Shell said NBCUniversal has become more comfortable that the Games will actually occur — despite ongoing COVID-19 concerns in Japan — adding that depending on ratings, the quadrennial spectacle could be the most profitable Olympics in the history of the company.

“If you want reach, there is nothing better than the Olympics,” he said. “You have 17 days where you dominate every night. You have … this exciting [competition] coming together after a world-changing event to celebrate athletes, success, stories and drama.”

The CEO said that what generally drives Olympics ratings is the strength of the U.S. team in marquee events such as gymnastics, swimming and track & field.

“We’re really pretty optimistic about this,” Shell said. “Simone Biles is just amazing and she’s going to be, for the first week of the Olympics, on every night. And then our swimming team is really strong and our track and field team is really strong.”

In addition to prime time TV coverage of the Games, NBC Sports will stream hundreds of hours from Tokyo on the Peacock hybrid AVOD/SVOD platform.

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