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AMC Theatres and Universal strike deal to make movies available sooner outside of theaters

The movie industry might be headed in this direction, but it’s not ready to cut theatres out of the mix just yet

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AMC Theaters, the U.S. largest movie theatre chain, and Universal have shaken hands on a new agreement that drastically shortens the length of time that films have to play in theaters before they can be parceled out for on-demand, rental, or for sale to a meager 17 days. 

Seventeen days might seem like an odd number, but it ensures that AMC will have a minimum of three weekends to play host to movie lovers. Typically, the standard release window runs somewhere between 70 days and 90 days.

COVID-19 prompts change in movie industry

The two movie giants have been wrestling for months over release windows -- a move brought on when Universal went direct to digital with Trolls: The World Tour and skipped traditional movie houses altogether.

Like many other things these days, the COVID-19 pandemic had a hand in that move. When Universal originally set a release date of April 10, 2020 for the Trolls movie, it had no idea theatres would be shut down and people forced to quarantine.

So instead of waiting until things got back to normal, Universal took an alternate route that paid off handsomely. Inside of three weeks, Trolls: The World Tour raked in nearly $100 million according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s more than Universal made with the first Trolls movie altogether.

Universal liked what it saw with that move and decided it was going to continue that release model. That got AMC’s dander up, and the chain’s CEO Adam Aron fired back, calling Universal’s plan “unacceptable” and threatening to ban all future Universal releases from AMC Theaters. 

Is the entire movie industry headed this way?

Yes, Trolls: World Tour is an example of where the industry is probably headed. Yes, AMC is in some serious financial trouble. And yes, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, and other digital platforms are taking a larger slice of the pie. But despite Universal’s good fortune, there doesn’t seem to be much uptake from its movie studio peers to leapfrog theatres completely.

A prime example would be WarnerMedia, whose CEO John Stankey told The Hollywood Reporter that theatrical films “have always been a major part of our ecosystem. I fully expect that as we evaluate our business going forward, we will continue to champion creative work that is worthy of the theatrical experience.”

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