Tragedy Tests Faith in ‘I Still Believe’

Love and faith are tested in I Still Believe, the true story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his first wife, Melissa.

In the film, Camp’s search for his artistic voice leads him to professional success and the love of his life, but his faith is put to the test when tragedy strikes. It stars K.J. Apa as Camp and Britt Robertson as Melissa. Directed by Jon Erwin and Andrew Erwin, the film was written by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn and is produced by Kevin Downes and the Erwins.

I Still Believe became available on premium VOD March 27 and on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital May 5.

“It’s a really authentic story that shows young love going through some of the big-gest challenges that you can imagine,” says Andy Erwin in the extras.

At the heart of the story is Camp’s first love, Melissa, who fights cancer with the support of her husband and her Christian faith.

“The impact that she had on his life was so profound that it ended up launching this platform for his worldwide music ministry,” says Downes.

“She wanted to have the courage to endure something that would change people,” adds Robertson.

Camp expresses his faith and his love for Melissa through music, and to tell his story, Apa worked with music producers to hone his voice before filming.

“We had decided early on that we didn’t want to imitate Jeremy,” says Andy Erwin.

“The music that we had, that Jeremy wrote, we kind of made it our own,” adds Apa.

The result is a soundtrack that fans will enjoy, say filmmakers.

“I think fans of Jeremy Camp will hear something familiar but really unexpected as K.J. kind of reinterprets what Jeremy’s music is to him,” says Andy Erwin.

Camp wrote the song “I Still Believe” to reaffirm his faith and bare his soul. Singer-songwriter Shania Twain, who plays Camp’s mother, identifies with his songwriting dilemma.

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“You’re contemplating, ‘Do I share this intimacy or don’t I?,’” she says in the extras. “Jeremy felt it was more important to share.”

“He writes this beautiful song that begins his journey toward true healing,” adds Gary Sinise, who portrays Camp’s father.

The Erwins had Sinise in mind when they wrote the part.

“To have him on set I think everybody just raised their game,” says Jon Erwin.

Among the extras is a conversation between Camp and fellow Christian music star Bart Millard of MercyMe, the subject of Kingdom’s previous film I Can Only Imagine. They compare notes on their biopics and contemplate how their stories have inspired the world.

“Millions have been ministered to because of this,” Camp says.

Extras on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Include:

  • Audio Commentary with Andy and Jon Erwin
  • “Origin” featurette
  • “Casting” featurette “Music” featurette
  • “Music” featurette
  • “Bart & Jeremy” featurette
  • Deleted Scenes


Kingdom and Lionsgate: A Royally Successful Wedding

It was a great first date — the release of I Can Only Imagine— that was the genesis of the partnership between Kingdom Story Company and Lionsgate.

The origin tale about the Christian music breakout hit had been in “development hell,” notes Kingdom president Josh Walsh.

“At the time we didn’t really have a lot of street cred,” he says.

The filmmakers privately financed and independently produced the film and found a distribution partner in Lionsgate.

“Lionsgate really saw something in it, and took a chance to distribute it,” Walsh recalls.

The film went on to earn more than $17 million its opening weekend and tally $86 million worldwide for its theatrical run — and it spawned a marriage between Lionsgate and Kingdom — led by filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin, Kevin Downes and Tony Young.

“Jon and Andy said, ‘We want to build a company, not to do one film here and there, but build a collective of artists to do something bigger than just a movie every couple of years,’” Walsh recalls. “[Lionsgate Motion Picture Group Chairman] Joe Drake really bought into that vision and supported it in a big way. And that would become the Kingdom-Lionsgate partnership, and we’ve had an amazing partnership thus far.”

This year’s follow-up to Lionsgate sister company Roadside Attractions’ I Can Only Imagine, the film I Still Believe is the first product of that union, and like the couple in the film, the movie had to weather hardship.

After it earned a promising $10 million at the box office its opening weekend, I Still Believe ended its theatrical run as the nation’s movie theaters closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The film would have to use a relatively new form of distribution, premium VOD, to continue to find an audience.

“As filmmakers, we are heart-broken that we can’t share I Still Believe on a big screen the way we intended,” stated filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin at the time. “We make movies because we love movies and we stand firmly behind the nation’s theater chains, from the largest circuits to the smallest mom-and-pop indies that have been so dramatically affected by these unprecedented closures. But the safety of guests comes first, and we’re proud to have the opportunity to share online a movie whose inspiring message of love, hope and faith is perfect for these uncertain times.”

Lionsgate released I Still Believe on PVOD March 27, just weeks after its March 12 theatrical opening.

“We’re thankful for our exhibition partners for being understanding, and we’re thankful to Lionsgate for being innovative,” Walsh says. “We were really surprised and thankful with how that premium window went. We know it’s just new territory for the whole industry, so we are thankful for the audience that has showed up.”

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He notes Lionsgate’s marketing team turned on a dime to boost the new distribution strategy.

“With its loyal and passionate fan base and an uplifting message of hope for these uncertain times, it made perfect sense to shift gears and release I Still Believe in the premium video-on-demand space,” says Lionsgate worldwide home entertainment president Ron Schwartz. “We trust Kingdom to deliver quality films and they trust our ability to take full advantage of the marketplace. While we can hardly wait to return to theaters when it’s time, we’re pleased that our home entertainment marketing, operations and creative teams could pivot quickly to ensure that I Still Believe reached its audience, and we expect its strong performance to continue through its traditional home entertainment window as well.”

Walsh also looks forward to the disc release of the film, noting that the home entertainment window is “a big one” for Kingdom’s content — inspirational stories of faith and patriotism.

“With the premium VOD window, we learned the audience is still there and wants to see it,” he says. “I think in the next window of home entertainment, there’ll be an even bigger audience — so we’re excited.”

Regal Owner Joins in Blasting Universal for Window Strategy

Regal theater chain owner Cineworld April 29 added its voice to criticism of Universal over its strategy to break traditional theatrical windows, boosted by the success of the studio’s premium VOD release of Trolls World Tour.

“We make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us,” read the Cineworld release.

In its criticism, Cineworld followed AMC Theatres, which April 28 vowed not to show Universal films because of the studio’s stance. On the heels of Trolls World Tour generating upwards of $100 million from its premium video-on-demand release, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell April 28 told The Wall Street Journal the studio would pursue a simultaneous theatrical/home entertainment release strategy going forward.

“The results for Trolls World Tour exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell said. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

Like AMC, Cineworld reasserted its support for a window and scolded Universal.

“Cineworld and Regal’s policy with respect to the window is clear, well known in the industry and is part of our commercial deal with our movie suppliers,” read the press release. “We invest heavily in our cinemas across the globe and this allows the movie studios to provide customers all around the world the opportunity to watch movies in the best experience. There is no argument that the big screen is the best way to watch a movie. Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the COVID-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas. Universal’s move is completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.”

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The press release noted that Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger approached Comcast chairman Brian Roberts on March 19, after the Trolls World Tour PVOD announcement, and told him: “Nice words from your team are worthless if we cannot trust you as a partner. The message that the media has portrayed is: ‘Hollywood breaks the window’ — well, this is not true! All our partners called us in a timely manner and told us that in the current situation they want to shorten the window for movies that were already released as cinemas are closing. Most importantly, they all reassured us that there will be no change to their window policy once the cinema business returned. Unfortunately I missed a similar message in Universal’s announcement… not only did Universal provide no commitment for the future window — but Universal was the ONLY studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released.”

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The release went on to say the company “was always open to showing any movie as long as the rules were kept and not changed by one-sided moves.”

“We have full confidence in the industry’s current business model,” the release read. “No one should forget that the theatrical side of this industry generated an all-time record income of $42 billion last year and the movie distributors’ share of this was about $20 billion.”

‘Trolls World Tour’ Again Tops FandangoNow Chart

Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour remained the top title on FandangoNow, the transactional video-on-demand service from Fandango, for the week ended April 19.

With its wide theatrical release scuttled by COVID-19, the animated sequel to Trolls instead debuted on premium VOD April 10 as a 48-hour rental at $19.99. During the week prior, its premiere week, the title was FandangoNow’s most preordered title of all time, best-selling film on its opening day and best-selling film during its first three days of digital release, according to the service.

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Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys for Life, the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence buddy film, made a another appearance at No. 2 on the FandangoNow chart for the week, while Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog repeated at No. 3. Sonic raced to digital release early March 31, also due to the coronavirus pandemic.

FandangoNow’s top 10 titles for the week ended April 19 were:

  1. Trolls World Tour
  2. Bad Boys for Life
  3. Sonic the Hedgehog
  4. The Invisible Man
  5. The Gentlemen
  6. Fantasy Island
  7. Underwater
  8. Birds of Prey
  9. The Way Back
  10. Dolittle

Homebound: Home Entertainment Takes Center Stage as Consumers Practice Social Isolation

Never before has home entertainment played such a crucial role in the industry.

With live events such as sports and concerts canceled, movie theaters closed, and other activities outside the home scrubbed, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust home viewing into the spotlight as consumers across the globe honor stay-at-home orders.

After years of aborted experiments, premium VOD is finally having its moment as studios rush ‘A’-list films into the home market, hurrying titles to digital to follow the audience.
Streaming services and other digital retailers are rolling out promotions to entice captive consumers — and are experiencing an explosion in viewership growth.

Meanwhile, studios are taking a big hit as theatrical revenue dries up. Observers say the growth in home viewing will only make up a fraction of the lost revenue from movie theater exhibition.

The theatrical pipeline, an important source of new content for home entertainment, has slowed to a trickle as studios shut down productions and postpone or scrap release plans for feature films and series. Warner Bros. postponed the theatrical release of perhaps its biggest title of the year, Wonder Woman 1984, to Aug. 14 from June 5.

Other delayed big Hollywood movies include the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, postponed until November from its original April theatrical date; the Walt Disney Co.’s live-action Mulan, moved from March 27 to July 24, Black Widow, to Nov. 6, The Eternals, to Feb. 12, 2021, and Jungle Cruise, a full year to July 30, 2021; Universal Pictures’ latest “Fast and Furious” film, F9, moved from May 2020 to April 2021; and the Paramount Pictures horror sequel A Quiet Place: Part II, similarly postponed from its previous March 20 theatrical due date.

Such original digital series as the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie” and Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on Disney+ will likely debut later than expected due to production halts.

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Fast-Tracked to Digital

As theaters began to shutter, studios filled the void with early digital releases for the growing home audience. Disney March 13 announced it would bring its animated mega-hit Frozen II to Disney+ March 15, three months ahead of schedule.

“We are pleased to be able to share this heartwarming story early with our Disney+ subscribers to enjoy at home on any device,” said Bob Chapek, the former Disney home entertainment chief who recently was elevated to CEO of the Walt Disney Co.

The studio later offered Pixar’s animated Onward, which had just premiered in theaters March 6, for early digital purchase March 20, with the film hitting Disney+ April 3, and canceled the planned May 29 theatrical release of Artemis Fowl, directed by Kenneth Branagh, instead signaling it would debut the film on the Disney+ streaming service at some point.

Universal Pictures March 16 announced it would release its current theatrical slate into home entertainment distribution channels. Movies included The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma, among others. Universal also called off the theatrical release of the DreamWorks Animation sequel Trolls World Tour and instead released the film through video-on-demand April 10. Titles were offered on digital channels for a 48-hour rental period at $19.99 each.

“We wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said.

Warner subsequently announced the early digital purchase availability of Birds of Prey and the Fantaulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (March 24), the Ben Affleck starrer The Way Back (also March 24), and Impractical Jokers: The Movie (April 1) at $19.99.

“With audiences largely unable to view films in theatrical release under current circumstances, we have decided to provide the alternative of early digital ownership of our currently released titles to people looking for great entertainment options,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “So, while we remain big fans of the theatrical experience and hope audiences are able to return to cinemas in the near future, we understand that these are challenging times, and offering this option simply makes sense.”

Paramount Pictures, meanwhile, scrapped the April 3 theatrical release of The Lovebirds and offloaded it to SVOD service Netflix, and the studio fast-tracked theatrical release Sonic the Hedgehog for digital purchase starting March 31.

The studio also looked to non-new theatrical content to fill the pipeline.

“We are working creatively to ensure that there is a constant flow of fresh content for both consumers and retailers to fill the theatrical void,” said Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home entertainment at Paramount Pictures. “Fortunately, we have a robust schedule of television content from CBS, Showtime, Nickelodeon and Paramount; new theatrical releases from Saban; plus a wealth of catalog initiatives, including our new
Paramount Presents line.”

Sony Pictures, too, pushed a theatrical release — Bloodshot — into the digital market early, less than two weeks after its theatrical debut, though the studio said it wasn’t a long-term change in strategy.

“Due to the unique situation where Bloodshot became inaccessible as a result of theater closures nationwide, the film was made available for digital purchase on March 24, 2020,” read a Sony statement. “Sony Pictures remains committed to traditional theatrical windows.”

Lionsgate rushed I Still Believe, about Christian music star Jeremy Camp, to premium VOD March 27. The film opened March 12 in theaters.

“We’re enormously proud of the movie that the Erwin Brothers created and are grateful to be able to share it with audiences for their home viewing pleasure,” said Joe Drake, chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.

It’s not just the big studios that shifted release plans.

Independent supplier Mill Creek Entertainment adjusted its schedule as well.

“We are having to make some adjustments to release dates, particularly where interviews, commentaries and other special features were in the process of being produced,” said Barrett Evans, Mill Creek VP of marketing and product development. “Other titles are getting early digital releases to maximize the potential sellthrough in light of reduced store traffic.”

He noted disc sales have increased at mass merchants and other retailers deemed “essential businesses,” especially with Mill Creek’s complete-series television releases and value-priced multi-feature collections.

While there have been some hiccups in disc manufacturing, Paramount, too, has seen continued physical business.

“Although store closures and supply chain challenges have hampered physical opportunities around the world, we continue to see demand for both rental and sellthrough of discs and are committed to servicing those consumers,” Buchi said.

Redbox, its rental kiosks conveniently placed in grocery stores and other high-traffic retailers during the pandemic, told customers via a statement that employees and retailers were cleaning the kiosks regularly and emphasized social distancing advantages.

“Our automated kiosks, by their very nature, eliminate the need for customers to interact with store personnel ‘behind the counter,’” read the statement. “Of course, customers can further minimize time and interaction at our kiosks by renting and reserving their DVD in advance online, or via our app, and then simply ‘pick up and go’ at their favorite retailer. And we have fast tracked the deployment of ‘contactless’ technology at tens of thousands of our locations, so customers can securely pay with a quick ‘tap,’ rather than swiping or using a chip reader.”

Like others, Redbox also pushed its digital options, including its just-launched Redbox Free Live TV.

“Those who would prefer to stream movies from home can also choose Redbox On Demand, where we have a fantastic selection of new-release movies for rental and purchase,” the statement read. “More than 30 channels are also available to stream for free, instantly on your Smart TV or favorite device.”

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Marketing Goes Digital

Indeed, the industry at large turned to marketing digital.

Mill Creek began to aggressively promote its TVOD service, Evans said, and offered sales on kidvid titles to help stay-at-home parents entertain the little ones.

Other digital retailers, too, rolled out promotions to draw the at-home viewer. FandangoNow touted the embarrassment of theatrical-grade early release riches and offered 20% discounts to first-time users.

“During this stressful time, when most of us cannot attend our beloved local theaters, Hollywood is bringing current movies to the comfort of our homes,” said Fandango managing editor Erik Davis.

The service also mounted promotions for Sonic the Hedgehog (offering an eight-minute clip and family activity sheets) and Trolls World Tour (with discounts on other DreamWorks titles with rental preorder).

Notably, fast-tracked Universal release The Invisible Man topped FandangoNow’s charts as soon as it hit digital.

“As fans continue to look for new content to watch at home, FandangoNow has experienced its biggest weekend ever,” FandangoNow head Cameron Douglas said March 23. “Our top sellers consisted of movies right out of the theaters, as well as other digital releases not yet available on subscription services.”

Also highlighting the early availability of top theatrical titles, Amazon March 22 announced via email the launch of Prime Video|Cinema, a new online hub where “you can watch the latest movies just released in theaters — without leaving home.” The launch featured Disney’s Onward available to buy for $19.99, with Universal’s The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma available to rent at the same price.

Walmart’s Vudu digital storefront similarly clustered early access movies under a “Theater at Home” banner.

Digital library service Movies Anywhere rolled out a beta of Screen Pass, which allows consumers to share titles in their collection with friends and family.

The studios, too, put an increased focus on marketing in the digital realm.

“With consumers restricted to their homes, the industry is seeing a significant increase in digital transactional consumption, and we are striving to meet that demand by working closely with digital retailers to offer and promote titles and curated collections at appropriate prices,” said Paramount’s Buchi.

With FandangoNow, Paramount hosted a Sonic “watch party” featuring a live Twitter commentary from the film’s stars, Ben Schwartz (Sonic) and Lee Majdoub (Agent Stone), along with the film’s director, Jeff Fowler.

Warner Bros. has similarly “been working with online media outlets, fan sites and portals to come up with novel and unique ways to entertain people who are passing time at home for the foreseeable future,” stated the studio. “To date, several online ‘watch parties’ have taken place with filmmakers and talent interacting with fans via Skype or Twitter as audiences watch films together in real time, including Birds of Prey with, which featured director Cathy Yan, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Ella Jay Basco and DC Comics writer Gail Simone; a DC Daily Birds of Prey watch party hosted by the site’s talent; and a Shazam! watch party on which featured director David F. Sandberg and Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer from the film.”

Several other screenings of both new-release and catalog films are currently in development, according to the studio.

Free for All

With an expanded at-home audience — some perhaps venturing into digital entertainment for the first time or expanding their digital repertoire — many online services showered the market with free or discounted content to whet the appetite.

As part of its #StayHomeBoxOffice coronavirus campaign, HBO announced it would stream multiple series, documentaries and movies for free on HBO Now and HBO Go beginning April 3.

Apple TV Channels extended to 30 days free trials to ViacomCBS’s Showtime OTT and MGM-owned Epix (through May 2 with no subscription required), AMC Networks’ Acorn TV and Lifetime Movie Channel, among other channels.

Amazon Prime Video began offering select children’s and family-themed entertainment free to anyone with a free Amazon — not Prime — account.

As part of Dish Network’s pandemic-related “Stay in & Sling” initiative, Sling TV launched several free promotions for news and other content and services.

“With social distancing recommendations extended nationally, we are working find new ways to help serve the public as it continues to shelter in place,” said Warren Schlichting, group president of Sling TV.

Actor Patrick Stewart, star of the CBS All Access series “Star Trek: Picard,” took to Twitter March 24 to announce that fans can enjoy a free month of the SVOD service as they shelter in place. CBS All Access offered a month-long subscription to anyone in the United States through April 23 with the code GIFT.
Comcast March 25 announced that it had made the VOD catalogs from a series of premium networks and SVOD services available to its Xfinity X1 and Flex customers for free for 30 days.

AT&T March 26 announced it would offer DirecTV, U-Verse, AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now subscribers free access to HBO, Starz, Cinemax and Epix into April.

Roku on March 28 announced its streaming media devices would highlight free content on The Roku Channel, via email newsletters and social media through a “Home Together” campaign.

Gold Rush or Fool’s Gold

As the pandemic spread and stay-at-home orders proliferated, research firms and analysts gathered data and opined on the spike in home entertainment consumption.

The vast majority of U.S. respondents to a March TV Time survey said they planned to increase TV content consumption during the crisis. The survey, fielded to 3,126 U.S. users of the TV Time App March 13-15, found among those planning to stay home/isolate or who were considering it (91%), 84% said they intended to increase their TV consumption during this period.
“Streaming services are poised to be among the biggest beneficiaries to capture consumers’ viewership and engagement,” the TV Time report concluded.

Conviva analyzed global streaming data from a 21-day period between March 3 and March 23, comparing the last week with the first two. Streaming skyrocketed on a global scale, increasing more than 20% compared with the previous two-week period, with North America streaming up nearly 27%.

Percentage viewership of VOD apps jumped double digits in a Vizio survey comparing two weekends in March, as more consumers began to stay home due to the coronavirus crisis.

Viewership of ad-supported VOD apps jumped 19% while overall viewership of TV apps grew 9% from the weekend of March 7-8 to the weekend of March 14-15, according to a survey of 9.6 million Vizio SmartCast users. Meanwhile, research firm Inscape found both streaming viewers (OTT) and linear viewers watched 10% more content overall in its survey of 14 million opt-in TVs comparing the same time periods.

Comscore found average in-home data use jumped 18% in early March compared with the previous-year period. OTT streaming significantly increased across connected TVs and streaming boxes/sticks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the research firm. In comparing OTT streaming behavior March 1-16 in 2019 to the same period in 2020, Comscore found notable year-over-year growth in both the number of households and time spent with OTT content on both connected TVs and streaming boxes/sticks. Streaming hours grew 24% on connected TVs and 16% on streaming boxes/sticks.

Streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ curtailed streaming quality so as not to overload infrastructure.

Strategy Analytics forecast global streaming video subscriptions would increase by 5% in 2020, projecting 949 million paid subscriptions globally by the end of 2020, an increase of 47 million from earlier forecasts.

“One significant factor affecting future SVOD growth is the impact of the coronavirus in both the short and long term,” said Michael Goodman, director of TV & Media Strategies. “In the near term the coronavirus will actually boost SVOD subscriptions, as well as viewing of these services, as an ever-growing number of consumers adopt social distancing or are forced into quarantine.”

Goodman said long-term effects of the virus on SVOD depend on the length of the pandemic and resulting economic damage. As businesses shut down and individuals are laid off, consumers will alter how they spend money on essential and non-essential services.

Indeed, many pundits acknowledged home entertainment viewing was experiencing a surge.

“Yes, they will see increased usage in home entertainment distribution,” Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities, said of the early digital releases, but he questioned long-term profitability.

He said kiosk disc rental/digital service company Redbox “definitely benefits” in the short term.

Richard Greenfield, media analyst with Lightshed Partners, said the elimination of live sports on TV makes SVOD a valuable alternative.

“To the extent consumers are increasingly working from home and refraining from out-of-home activities, without sports to watch on TV, we suspect streaming services such as Netflix will see increased subscriber additions and higher utilization per account (leading to higher ARPU plans that enable more users per household and lower churn),” Greenfield wrote in a March 12 note.

Analyst Laura Martin with Needham, one of the first Wall Street pundits to predict a home entertainment surge as a result of the pandemic, cautioned that with the pandemic exploding in Europe, international Netflix subscriber growth will stall.

“In distressed times, people will give up their Netflix subscriptions,” Martin wrote in a note.

Greenfield disagreed.

“Netflix appears incredibly well-positioned to entertain consumers as [other] entertainment options dry up, especially if more movie theaters close globally,” he wrote.

Studios, Industry Under Pressure

While the growth in home entertainment was a bright spot as the pandemic grew, the entertainment industry at large took major hits. Numerous industry events, including the National Association of Broadcasters show scheduled for Las Vegas in April, were canceled.

The studios warned of leaner times. Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, and the Walt Disney Co. had to close their respective amusement parks and warned Wall Street of losses
ahead. NBC noted it would suffer the loss of Olympic coverage this summer as the games were postponed to 2021.

The Walt Disney Co. April 3 announced it would start furloughing non-essential U.S. employees April 19.

“With no clear indication of when we can restart our businesses, we’re forced to make the difficult decision to take the next step and furlough employees whose jobs aren’t necessary at this time,” a Disney representative said in a statement.

Disney also announced that executive chairman Bob Iger, who earlier this year stepped down as CEO, would forgo his entire salary, and that Iger’s successor as CEO, Bob Chapek, would have his salary cut in half.

Industry heavyweights set up relief funds for those displaced.

Netflix March 20 disclosed the creation of a $100 million relief fund for people in the entertainment business waylaid by the epidemic. CCO Ted Sarandos, in a blog post, said $15 million would go to third parties and nonprofits providing emergency relief to out-of-work crew, cast, electricians, carpenters and drivers  — many of whom are paid hourly wages and work on a project-to-project basis — in the countries where Netflix has large production facilities.

“This community has supported Netflix through the good times, and we want to help them through these hard times,” Sarandos wrote.

He said most of the money would go toward support for the hardest-hit workers on its own productions. This was in addition to the two week’s pay Netflix had already committed to the crew and cast on productions forced into suspension.

Netflix also announced the donation of $1 million each to the SAG-AFTRA COVID-19 Disaster Fund, the Motion Picture and Television Fund and the Actors Fund Emergency Assistance in the U.S., and $1 million split between the AFC and Fondation des Artistes.

NBCUniversal announced the creation of a $150 million fund for employees, production personnel and amusement staff impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement by CEO Jeff Shell included the news he had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

WarnerMedia set up a $100 million fund to assist production workers and others idled by the shutdown in Hollywood.

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) pledged $1 million to a fund to assist laid-off theater workers and decried the fast-tracked move to home entertainment. NATO on March 17 issued a statement blasting the practice of early digital release, citing “speculation in the media that the temporary closure of theaters will lead to accelerated or exclusive releases of theatrical titles to home streaming.”

“Such speculation ignores the underlying financial logic of studio investment in theatrical titles,” the NATO statement read. “To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world.

“While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal.”

Before life returns to normal, though, it’s clear the focus of entertainment will be in the home — and as a result home entertainment may be a bigger part of the industry’s future after the pandemic subsides.

Analyst Says PVOD Likely to Persist After Stay-at-Home Orders Lifted

Premium VOD as a distribution concept may continue to stick around even after stay-at-home orders are lifted, wrote Colin Dixon, chief analyst and founder of nScreenMedia.

“People love the idea of an accelerated digital release for first-run movies,” he wrote. “Comcast/NBCU hopes the premium VOD (PVOD) approach will become permanent. With theaters likely to remain closed for longer than the industry would like, both groups may see PVOD persist for months to come.”

Citing data from Hub Entertainment Research, he wrote that 74% of respondents were very or somewhat interested in seeing new movies at home at the same price as viewing them in the theaters.

He also noted that attracting audiences back to theaters may be difficult.

“The idea that audiences will flock back to theaters once shelter-in-place orders are lifted is looking increasingly unlikely,” he wrote. “Movie theaters will be among the last to receive the green light to open their doors since they are non-essential and put people at increased risk of catching the virus. What’s more, it will take a while for audiences to feel comfortable sitting with a group of strangers for two hours.”

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‘Trolls World Tour’ Breaks Records at FandangoNow

DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour was the most popular film on FandangoNow, Fandango’s transactional video-on-demand service, for the week ended April 12.

The April 10 premium VOD debut of the Universal Pictures/DreamWorks film helped the service see its best weekend in its history, according to FandangoNow.

Trolls World Tour, available for digital rental at $19.99 for 48 hours, became the service’s most preordered title of all time, best-selling film on its opening day and best-selling film during its first three days of digital release.

With movie theaters closed, Trolls World Tour made an unprecedented premiere on digital for such a big blockbuster release.

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“Following weeks of anticipation for its home premiere, Trolls World Tour is now FandangoNow’s streaming debut champ, with the best preorders, first day and opening weekend sales we’ve ever seen,” said FandangoNow head Cameron Douglas. “We’re pleased that families looking for a much-needed entertainment break are enjoying DreamWorks Animation’s latest movie on our service.”

FandangoNow’s top 10 titles for the week ended April 12 were:

  1. Trolls World Tour
  2. Bad Boys for Life
  3. Sonic the Hedgehog
  4. Birds of Prey
  5. The Invisible Man
  6. Dolittle
  7. The Call of the Wild
  8. Like a Boss
  9. Bloodshot
  10. Jumanji: The Next Level

‘Trolls World Tour’ a Test of Premium VOD

It’s a first for a big blockbuster release.

Trolls World Tour — the animated sequel to Trolls originally intended to premiere in movie theaters April 10 — instead heads directly and exclusively to premium VOD on the same day at a $19.99 rental price for 48 hours.

Well, almost exclusively — according to a Universal Pictures spokesperson, the film “will be playing at 25 drive-in theaters around the country, so clearly it’s not exclusive to on-demand.”

With movie theaters closing due to the COVID-19 crises, Universal Pictures and DreamWorks in mid-March elected to release the film simultaneously in theaters and on PVOD. Now, with theaters around the country closed, PVOD is getting the relatively exclusive premiere.

The sequel, featuring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Cordon and Kelly Clarkson, among others, is a test case for PVOD.

Will the strategy pay off?

Richard Greenfield, co-founder/analyst with Lightshed Partners, discussed the move to digital delivery on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” April 9.

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“It’s a pretty monumental day in the film industry where a mainstream consumer movie in Trolls is going to skip the theaters,” he said. “I give [NBCUniversal CEO] Jeff Shell and the team at Universal Pictures a lot of credit for being willing to try this. It’s a unique circumstance. A lot of the marketing dollars had already been set in motion for Trolls, but you got kids stuck at home, families stuck at home — $20 for Trolls, direct to consumer tomorrow, is really interesting. I’m certainly rooting for them to do well because I think this is an important model for the industry.”

Digital retailers are making the most of the unprecedented opportunity.  FandangoNow, movie ticketing service Fandango’s digital retail site, is offering an “extended sneak peek” on and on the FandangoNow Extras YouTube Channel starting at 8 a.m. PT (11 a.m. ET).

Then, fans renting the film can participate in a 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET) “Trolls World Tour Watch Party,” hosted by podcasters The McElroy Brothers (who provide troll voices in the movie),with commentary from the film’s director, Walter Dohrn, along with other talent and fellow fans on the official @Trolls Twitter page, using the hashtag #TrollsWatchParty.

FandangoNow is pulling out all the stops for Trolls World Tour, the first big movie to premier on PVOD.

“There’s so much excitement surrounding our first-ever Home Premiere pre-order that advance orders for Trolls World Tour are the strongest we’ve ever seen,” said FandangoNow head Cameron Douglas. “Families can’t wait to watch the reunion of the beloved ‘Trolls’ characters, while stocking up on DreamWorks Animation titles they can enjoy together at home.”

Vudu, too, has a “Trolls World Tour Watch Party” scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT (6 p.m. EDT), preceded by a half-hour “virtual red carpet pre-show,” accessed through Twitter, with movie trivia, influencer interviews and favorite character talk.

Analyst Greenfield questions whether consumers will return to theaters as stay-at-home orders lift.

“What happens when the theaters reopen, and people really don’t want to go to them?” he said. “Is there a model where your Peacock subscriber (or Disney+, HBO Max, etc.), do you try to market movies at a $20 or $30 premium? You could think of it like ‘NFL Sunday Ticket.’ You had to have DirecTV to get it. Or UFC. You can’t get UFC streaming unless you are an ESPN+ subscriber. It’s possible you move to that model; the PVOD model is certainly possible. But you are already limiting the person who can see it. Anyone can see it in a theater. If you limit the universe just to people who are just Disney+ subs, you do run the risk of just not being able to reach as many people as you otherwise would have reached. So, [PVOD] is an idea. All the studios are trying to figure it out.”

He noted that social distancing in a theater drops capacity significantly.

“Our core business of putting people in theaters for decades, it’s not clear when hundreds of people are going to feel comfortable again in a movie theater,” he said.

Subscription VOD is a beneficiary of the crisis as well, he said.

Vudu’s email to customers, promoting the Trolls World Tour “watch party”

“Consumers want to stream a lot of content, and the pandemic is just accelerating that trend,” he said. “Can you wait for movie theaters to do $1 billion for a movie like Mulan, or do you with a base of 50 million for Disney+ (maybe 70 million, 80 million by the end of the year), you say, ‘You know what. We have to change the model, use this Disney+ far more aggressively to get content out to the consumer.’

“It will be really interesting to see if [new Disney CEO Bob] Chapek has the guts and boldness to shift Disney’s business model. Or [say], ‘Hey, we got a lot more subs, and it’s still a small part of overall business model.'”

Certainly, movie theaters will put up a fight.

Interestingly, just about a year ago in February 2019, Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi said Hollywood studios were no longer talking about creating a premium video-on-demand window for popular movies, according to a story from The Hollywood Reporter.

“PVOD isn’t even discussed anymore,” Zoradi told the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco.

Additional reporting by Erik Gruenwedel.

Redbox also is promoting the unprecedented PVOD debut of Trolls World Tour

‘I Still Believe’ Heading to Premium VOD March 27

In response to theater closures due to the coronavirus outbreak, Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Co. will release the motion picture I Still Believe on premium VOD (PVOD) across all premium platforms beginning March 27.

The film opened March 12 in theaters and has earned $10.1 million at the global box office.

K.J. Apa, Shania Twain and Gary Sinise in I Still Believe.

I Still Believe is the true story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp. Starring K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson, the film follows one young couple’s  journey that proves hope can survive great tragedy and that love tested is the only love worth sharing. The film also stars Shania Twain and Gary Sinise.

Directed by Jon Erwin and Andrew Erwin, the film was written by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn and is produced by Kevin Downes, Jon Erwin and Andrew Erwin.

“The theatrical experience is core to our business, and exhibitors are our integral partners and allies,” said Joe Drake, chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, in a statement. “With theaters closed nationwide due to these unprecedented events, we want to continue to make I Still Believe available to consumers. We’re enormously proud of the movie that the Erwin Brothers created and are grateful to be able to share it with audiences for their home viewing pleasure.”

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“As filmmakers, we are heartbroken that we can’t share I Still Believe on a big screen the way we intended,” said I Still Believe directors Jon and Andrew Erwin in a statement. “We make movies because we love movies and we stand firmly behind the nation’s theater chains, from the largest circuits to the smallest mom and pop indies that have been so dramatically affected by these unprecedented closures. But the safety of guests comes first, and we’re proud to have the opportunity to share online a movie whose inspiring message of love, hope and faith is perfect for these uncertain times.”

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According to the studio, the film has received an ‘A’ Cinemascore from audiences and has received a 98% Audience Score on

Early Home Video Access for the 1% Crowd — Without the Industry Angst

Flush with cash from Trump’s tax cut, the ultra-wealthy can now access new-release theatrical releases in the home — for $1,500 to $3,000 a title.

Upstart Red Carpet Films has entered the controversial premium video-on-demand market offering consumers willing to pay almost anything to rent (for 36 hours) Shazam! or Godzilla: King of the Monsters day-and-date with their theatrical debut.

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Studios such as Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, Disney’s 20thCentury Fox and Fox Searchlight, among others, are on board the concept that requires consumers submit to a background check and purchase a $15,000 set-top box rigged with anti-piracy controls.

Disney (a big proponent of the 90-day theatrical window), Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures are not on board. Exhibitors apparently remain unconcerned about the targeted demo.

Fred Rosen

The brainchild of Fred Rosen, founder of Ticketmaster and Dan Fellman, who retired from Warner Bros. in 2015 after a 40-year career in distribution, Red Carpet Films claims it can deliver studios about $300 million in incremental revenue from as few as 4,000 wealthy customers.

Investment firm Charles Schwab considers anyone in possession of at least $2.4 million in net value wealthy. Nationwide, households earning at least $390,000 annually are considered to be in the 1% of earners. That requisite figure increases significantly in 12 states, including Connecticut, California, New York, and Texas.

“Every product I can think of has a luxury version, which got me thinking … why not movies?” Rosen told The New York Times.

It’s not an original business model. Best Buy in 2013 toyed with a business (CinemaNow) that charged consumers $500 for early home video access, in addition to related equipment charges.

Recently, Screening Room (from Napster founder Sean Parker) promised early in-home access (priced from $30) despite exhibitor pushback. Universal, in 2011, tried offering actioner Tower Heist early in the home – a strategy that was quickly shelved when exhibitors refused to carry the movie.

Of course, Netflix has long pushed in-home access to its original movies concurrent with any theatrical screenings.

While Lionsgate chairman Michael Burns promised studios would embrace premium VOD last year – a movement pushed as well by former Warner Bros. chairman Kevin Tsujihara – the concept now appears DOA.

Dan Fellman

Fellman says Red Carpet has worked with studios instead of placing demands.

“They appreciated that,” he said. “What doesn’t work in Hollywood is going in and wagging a finger and saying, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

Report: Warner’s Tsujihara Still Keen on Premium VOD

Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara again pushed the idea of early home access for consumers that want theatrical movies sooner — oft termed premium VOD.

“Clearly we want the theatrical experience to continue and to maintain that incredible social experience,” he told the Los Angeles Times Feb. 27, noting that Crazy Rich Asians “got into the zeitgeist,” which is “very difficult to do on a streaming service.”

But he said that early home access is part of the evolution of content delivery.

“If consumers want to be able to experience it in the home sooner, then they should have that option as well,” he said. “That’s where we’d like to see the movie business go.”

As far as the new direct-to-consumer streaming service coming from parent company AT&T, Tsujihara told the Times that the studio’s content will go to that platform as well as linear, current customers.

“It’s about finding the right platform for the content,” he told the Times. “Some will go to HBO, some will go to Turner, some will go to Netflix, and other streaming platforms, and some will go to the direct-to-consumer platform.”

He also commented on the promise of 5G.

“It actually could have a significant impact on our ability to deliver content,” he told the Times.

He said 5G would “turbocharge” the ability to deliver VR and AR experiences.