NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell Says Studio’s Deal With AMC “Can Tap Into Very Large Audience” Who Doesn’t Frequent Movie Theaters

The hope for NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell in the studio’s new unprecedented 17-day theatrical window collapse-PVOD deal with AMC Theatres is to make more money in the post theatrical windows which have waned in recent years.

Jeff Shell

“Movies are our lifeblood,” said the NBCUniversal pro-PVOD exec, “Over the last couple of years, it’s become more increasingly difficult to generate the same returns over the first couple of windows. We believe the new model in the U.S. will restore some of those economics, probably not make more movies, but keep production levels the same as in the past.”

“Long-term we’ve always believed that there’s a growing segment of the population out there who doesn’t go to movie theaters. This structure with AMC allows us to take advantage of people who do go to the movie theaters, 17 days of exclusivity at minimum for theaters, but very soon after in the same marketing window, we can tap into that very large audience who doesn’t go to movie theaters, but is just going to SVOD to watch movies. And that’s within the marketing window of the giant marketing we spend that goes to theatrical. So, we think this structure allows us to tap into this incremental revenue stream, allowing AMC to share in it a little bit, and other exhibitors and at the same time preserve that theatrical window which is so critical to the film business.”

But let’s not forget the pandemic, that’s the other reason why Universal and AMC hammered this deal out. If the big movie theaters are going to open slowly in the pandemic, box office receipts are poised to be smaller, at least that’s the assumption from industry sources.

“In the shorter term, we’re caught in a chicken-egg situation in the theatrical business,” explained Shell today, “we think this model will actually allow movies to come back to theaters a lot more quickly then they would have in the current environment.”

Shell emphasized that the 17-day theatrical window was not a one-size-fits-all approach to distributing movies. That’s just the minimum time.

“I anticipate movies will stay in theaters longer than 17 days. Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island is a perfect type of film that could thrive in this type of model…That would be a 17-day normal time…we can toggle that based on the type of movie.”

That said, while Universal has released such movies on theatrical and PVOD simultaneously during COVID-19 such as Trolls World Tour and Focus Features’ Irresistible, and The High Note, The King of Staten Island was pulled from drive-ins at the last minute days before its release, the filmmakers reportedly wanting the movie to stay strictly on PVOD. No official revenue figures have been reported on King of Staten Island or Trolls World Tour, but the latter per sources made close to $100M in its first month on PVOD. Some studio bosses are dubious on whether PVOD is a potent future money stream, and even profitable, especially when the at-home crowd is already spending money on streaming services.

At the top of today’s 2Q earnings call, Shell said that PVOD in the Uni-AMC deal was a “complement rather than a replacement for a robust theatrical release.” He praised AMC boss Adam Aron “for his vision that together we can build a new, more attractive business model for us both.”

The town has truly been divided on the ramifications and gravity of Universal and AMC’s deal. Simply put, we’ll just have to wait until theaters reopen, and business gets up and running to see if this becomes a widespread studio-exhibition norm, and whether it impacts the initial theatrical window for big tentpoles. Remember, Paramount’s previous short window-PVOD deal with AMC back in 2015 fizzled with two non-stellar movies: Blumhouse’s Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Yesterday, Deadline exclusively reported that the world’s No. 2 exhibitor, Cineworld, which owns U.S.’s Regal chain, found “no business sense” in what Universal and AMC were doing. Other studios like Warner Bros, given their fever for streaming with the launch of HBO Max, are more open-minded to working on a similar deal with AMC.

The interesting takeaway here was that a few months ago, AMC boss Aron would have no such business with a studio that was releasing movies on a theatrical and PVOD day-and-date level, but then changed his tune, arguably because of the revenue share deal which we hear is north of 20% of PVOD for a title, with a further 2% theatrical rental on the chain’s side, we hear.

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