Entertainment

Universal to release movies online while they are in theaters, starting with 'Trolls World Tour'

Key Points
  • Universal's "Trolls World Tour" will be the first movie it will simultaneously debut online and in theaters on April 10.
  • Other films that are currently in theaters, like "The Invisible Man," "The Hunt" and "Emma" will be available for a 48-hour rental as soon as Friday with the suggested price of $19.99.
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NBCUniversal to release some new films online while still in theaters

With the spreading coronavirus pandemic forcing movie theaters to close, Comcast is breaking with tradition and making a number of new movies available to watch at home. 

Universal's "Trolls World Tour" will be the first movie it will simultaneously debut online and in theaters on April 10. Other films that are currently in theaters, like "The Invisible Man," "The Hunt" and "Emma" will be available for a 48-hour rental as soon as Friday with the suggested price of $19.99.

Typically, movie studios wait 90 days for a film to run in theaters before putting it out to home viewing, but the company will be releasing new films online while they are still in cinemas. 

Notably, Universal has decided to implement this new policy for its low-to-mid-tier budgeted films. The budget for "Trolls World Tour" is half that figure, "Invisible Man" was around $7 million and "The Hunt" was around $14 million.

Meanwhile, the release of the upcoming "F9" was pushed from May 2020 to April 2021. The budget for "F9" is likely on par of that of its predecessor "The Fate of the Furious," which cost $250 million to make, excluding marketing.

"NBCUniversal will continue to evaluate the environment as conditions evolve and will determine the best distribution strategy in each market when the current unique situation changes," Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, said in a statement Monday.

"Trolls World Tour" is the sequel to Dreamworks and Universal's animated hit from 2016 "Trolls." With schools around the country closing and more people seeking to self-quarantine or being ordered to stay at home, "Trolls World Tour" wasn't likely to draw big crowds. Many theaters that remain open in the U.S. have capped the number of people who can attend. 

Making this kid's film available online allows parents to keep their kids safe from the transmission of COVID-19, but also entertained. 

"I think it's just good business for companies to make the appropriate decisions that best serve their audience and the content that they are providing to consumers," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said. "These are times that require unusual steps and innovative thinking. Likely we will be seeing more industries coming up with unexpected solutions to cope with the current global situation."

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It is unclear if demand will mean a big payout for the company. After all, typically studios have two windows with which to earn money on a movie — the initial release in theaters and then the home entertainment window. 

Take a movie like Disney's "Frozen." The animated feature had $1.26 billion in ticket sales at the global box office and then took in an additional $409.5 million in revenue from DVD and Blu-Ray sales, according to The Numbers, a box office and home market resource site.

For comparison, "Trolls" took in $344.1 million at the global box office and sold around $70 million in DVD and Blu-Ray sales.

Disney has also adjusted some of its at-home release windows. "Frozen II" and "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" arrived on Disney+ earlier than expected in order to meet demand for those unable or unwilling to leave their homes.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of CNBC and NBCUniversal.

VIDEO2:2502:25
NBCUniversal to release some new films online while still in theaters