With both AMC and Regal condemning NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, and threatening to ban Universal films if their release strategy steers towards digital, it was only a matter of time before Shell responded. In an earnings conference call (via Deadline), Shell maintained an eventual commitment to theatrical, but can’t ignore the changes that led to the financial windfall seen by Trolls World Tour through streaming.
“The question is when we come out of this (pandemic), what is going to be the model? I would expect that consumers will return to the theaters and we will be part of that. And I also expect that PVOD is going to be a part of that in some way. It’s not a replacement, it’s going to be a complementary element. We’re just going to have to see how long that takes and where it takes us.”
“There’s no question that theatrical will someday be a central element to our business and film business, it’s how people make their movies and how they expect their movies to be seen. But the flip side is the majority of our movies, whether we like it or not, are being consumed at home, it’s not realistic to assume that we’re not going to change, that this part of the business isn’t going to change like all parts of the business are going to change.”
In reference to AMC, Regal, NATO, and others who have come out against Universal in recent days, Shell is trying to assuage fears caused by his statements touting VOD as a pathway going forward. It was never clear exactly what Shell meant, whether that means a release where new movies hit theatrical and digital at the same time, or if new films originally intended for theaters will simply go to VOD. Either way, it was enough to get theater owners riled up enough to speak out, and for AMC to bar Universal movies from theaters. Regal threatened similar action yesterday.
With no actual films in theaters right now, anyway, this all comes across as a lot of saber-rattling on both sides. We’ll see what happens when the first huge new release of the year comes around, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. If that does extremely well, as many analysts expect, we could see both sides come to accord pretty quickly.