*Universal Pictures chose to bypass a theatrical release for the children’s film “Trolls World Tour” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instead sent the title straight to Video on Demand with a rental fee of $19.99.
Now AMC Theaters is fighting back against the move after the animated feature reportedly earned an estimated $100 million in premium VOD rentals in its first three weeks in the U.S.
NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told the Wall Street Journal, “The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability for PVOD. As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
But AMC Theaters says it will no longer show Universal Pictures releases when their cinemas finally reopen.
As reported by PEOPLE, AMC Theaters chair-CEO Adam Aron fired off a letter Tuesday to Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley, saying the company’s actions were “breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies.”
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Dang! #TrollsWorldTour is available to watch at home on demand now!
— #TrollsWorldTour – at home now! (@Trolls) April 10, 2020
“It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us,” Aron wrote, according to The Hollywood Reporter, adding that Universal assumes it “can have its cake and eat it too.”
AMC’s letter went on to state:
“This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theaters reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat. Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way, it also extends to any movie maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us, so that they as distributor and we as exhibitor both benefit and neither are hurt from such changes. Currently, with the press comment today, Universal is the only studio contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo. Hence, this immediate communication in response.”
Aron made it clear “AMC is willing to sit down with Universal to discuss different windows strategies and different economic models between your company and ours,” but that since those discussions haven’t taken place “our decades of incredibly successful business activity together has sadly come to an end.”
— #TrollsWorldTour – at home now! (@Trolls) April 13, 2020
In response, a spokesperson for Universal Pictures said the studio is “disappointed” by AMC’s actions.
“Our goal in releasing Trolls: World Tour on PVOD was to deliver entertainment to people who are sheltering at home, while movie theatres and other forms of outside entertainment are unavailable,” a spokesperson for the studio tells PEOPLE.
“Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move,” they continued. “In fact, given the choice of not releasing Trolls: World Tour, which would not only have prevented consumers from experiencing the movie but also negatively impacted our partners and employees, the decision was clear. Our desire has always been to efficiently deliver entertainment to as wide an audience as possible.”
“We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary,” they added. “As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense. We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and NATO to confuse our position and our actions.”
“Trolls World Tour” was released on major on-demand platforms on April 10 and has since scored nearly 5 million rentals.