Is Odeon about to ban Universal films over its video on demand releases?

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Odeon’s parent company announces it’ll no longer play Universal films – and that might just affect No Time To Die.

When it became clear that cinemas were set to close, and were not likely to open for some time, Universal Pictures acted quickly. It sent three of its films that were still playing – The Hunt, The Invisible Man and Emma – straight to premium video on demand instead, charging £15.99 for a 48 hour digital rental. Cinema prices, for the early convenience of watching a film at home.

That caused some cinema exhibitors unhappiness. But it seems the movie that’s done the real damage for Universal’s relationship with at least one chain is Trolls World Tour. This became the first blockbuster to bypass cinemas altogether and go straight to premium video on demand, and Universal over the past day or two has revealed that the experiment produced notably good financial results.

As such, NBCUniversal chief Jeff Shell released a statement saying that not only had the film “exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD”, but that when cinemas reopen, “we expect to release movies on both formats”.

This has not gone down will with AMC Theaters in particular in the US. And it’s notable in the UK because AMC is the parent company of Odeon.

AMC’s chairman and CEO Adam Aron has thus fired a shot in what looks likely to be quite the battle.

“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East”, he has written.

This policy affects “any and all Universal movies per se” and is effective from today. He adds this is “not some hollow or ill-conceived threat”, and that the ban will be extending to any other 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”.

The letter signs off, saying “AMC is willing to sit down with Universal to discuss different windows strategies and different economic models between your company and ours. However, in the absence of such discussions, and an acceptable conclusion thereto, our decades of incredibly successful business activity together has sadly come to an end”.

In the UK, Universal has on its slate what’s expected to be the biggest movie of 2020, the new James Bond adventure No Time To Die. Whilst Odeon in the UK has not specifically commented on Aron’s comments, it seems that unless there’s a thawing in the relationship, the chain will not be showing the new 007 movie. In 2021 too, there’s the smaller matter of Jurassic World, Minions and Fast & Furious sequels too.

Expect this one to run and run, and we wait Universal’s response with interest.


Image: BigStock

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