NBCUniversal’s Jeff Shell: ‘Not Realistic’ to Ignore PVOD

After setting off an industry firestorm saying Universal Pictures would pursue a movie-release strategy combining theatrical and premium video-on-demand, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell doubled down on his previous comments to The Wall Street Journal after Universal Pictures animated feature film, Trolls World Tour, generated $100 million in PVOD sales.

Speaking April 29 on the Comcast fiscal call, Shell said PVOD would continue as a “complementary offer” to consumers when theaters re-open to the public — and consumers attend.

He said the Trolls had been primed and marketed for a March 20 theatrical bow, and when the coronavirus shut down theaters, going direct-to-consumer on April 10 with a “desperately” needed children’s title during the pandemic was the only option.

“The majority of our movies, whether we like it or not, are being consumed at home,” Shell said. “It’s not realistic to assume that we’re not going to change, that this part of the business isn’t going to change like all parts of the business are going to change.”

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The executive said it remains to be seen what the distribution model will look like post-COVID-19. While he expects a gradual return to the cineplex, which he said Universal would be part of, he also expects PVOD to be a part of the business model.

“[PVOD is] not a replacement,” Shell said. “We’re just going to have to see how long [a return to theatrical] takes and where it takes us.”

AMC Theatres, trade group National Association of Theatre Owners and Regal Cinemas have blasted Universal for pledging to bypass the traditional 90-day theatrical window. Both exhibitors have said they would not distribute any Universal — or other studio — title earmarked for simultaneous in-home digital release.

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With the exception of Georgia and Texas, movie theaters in most states remain shuttered due to the coronavirus. The industry and studios are projected to lose billions in box office revenue to the shutdowns.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh said future PVOD releases would be determined on a “title-by-title” basis.

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