Similarly to the situation in the United States, European theater operators are reeling from studios delaying new-release movies due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), the trade group representing European exhibitors, has lashed out at Walt Disney Studios’ decision to bow Pixar Animation’s Soul on SVOD service Disney+ rather than in theaters.
“Disney’s decision to release Soul directly onto their streaming platform, depriving many audiences across Europe from seeing it on the big screen, has shocked and dismayed all cinema operators,” UNIC said in a statement.
Indeed, Soul represents the third major Disney title (after Artemis Fowl and Mulan) to forgo a theatrical release due to the pandemic. UNIC is upset since control of the pandemic is better in Europe than in the U.S., which has resulted in significantly better box office revenue.
The vast majority of cinemas across Europe are now open and able to offer a “safe and enjoyable” return for moviegoers, according to UNIC. Like U.S. exhibitors, European operators have invested heavily in social distancing and sanitation protocols in theaters.
“Yet again, however, they find a distributor delivering another blow,” UNIC wrote. “The decision on Soul is doubly frustrating for operators who were counting on the release after the film was previewed at a number of key European film festivals.”
The trade group argues that there is compelling evidence that where moviegoers have returned, their experience was both safe and enjoyable. It also stressed that without major new releases, consumers won’t return to the big screen. Indeed, across Europe, many cinemas have since re-opening screened countless local releases, underlining the fact that first-run titles are now more important than ever.
UNIC said decisions to postpone titles, bypassing cinemas and the value they create, are extremely disappointing — and concerning — and will only delay the day that the whole industry is able to put crisis behind it.
“It is no exaggeration to say that by the time some studios decide that the moment is right to release their films, it may be too late for many European cinemas,” read the statement.