Universal Filmed Entertainment Group — i.e. Universal Pictures and Focus Features — has inked a multi-year deal with AMC Theaters that calls for its films to play in theaters for just 17 days before they’re allowed to debut on premium VOD. Additionally, it sounds like AMC will get a piece of the proverbial PVOD pie and take a slice from the revenue generated from those $20 rentals.
The 17-day figure means that films released on a Friday will play exclusively in theaters for three weekends, which is when a movie makes most of its theatrical revenue anyway. Though it does happen from time to time, it’s very rare for films to pick up steam or have serious legs beyond their third weekend in theaters.
The point is that this agreement gives Universal flexibility. If a movie isn’t performing up to expectations in theaters, the studio only has to wait 17 days to pivot its marketing plans to the film’s PVOD. If Universal knows ahead of time that it has a turkey on its hands, it can give a movie a smaller opening to fulfill a contract calling for its theatrical release, then put more energy behind a PVOD campaign.
The other important element of this arrangement is that AMC is launching its own VOD platform AMC Theaters on Demand, where it would, presumably, receive a bigger split than if someone chooses to rent a new Universal movie on iTunes, where I typically make most of my PVOD rentals and purchases.
“The theatrical experience continues to be the cornerstone of our business,” said UFEG chairman Donna Langley. “The partnership we’ve forged with AMC is driven by our collective desire to ensure a thriving future for the film distribution ecosystem and to meet consumer demand with flexibility and optionality.”
“Universal’s commitment to innovation in how we deliver content to audiences is what our artists, partners and shareholders all expect of us, and we are excited about the opportunity this new structure presents to grow our business,” said UFEG’s vice chairman and chief distribution officer Peter Levinsohn, who led negotiations on behalf of the studio. “We are grateful to AMC for their partnership and the leadership they have shown in working with us to reach this historic deal.”
Aron had a lot more to say in the statement sent to press. “Focusing on the long-term health of our industry, we would note that just as restaurants have thrived even though every home has a kitchen, AMC is highly confident that moviegoers will come to our theatres in huge numbers in a post-pandemic world. As people enjoy getting out of their homes, we believe the mystical escape and magical communal experience offered at our theatres will always be a compelling draw, including as it does our big screens, big sound and big seats not to mention the alluring aroma of our perfectly prepared popcorn. Universal and AMC have partnered in bringing stellar movies to moviegoers for a full century. With this historic industry changing agreement, together we will continue to do so and in a way that should drive success for us both.”
Naturally, the full terms of the deal were not disclosed, but look for other studios to follow Universal’s lead and cut similar deals with major theater chains. Universal has long sought to collapse the theatrical window, so this is a major win for the studio without it being a major blow for theaters. And it surely comes as a relief to filmmakers like Colin Trevorrow, whose Jurassic World: Dominion can now play in AMC theaters after its war of words with Universal earlier this summer over the PVOD release of Trolls World Tour.