Why I’m Siding with Universal in the AMC vs. Universal Debate

Last week, AMC and Regal theaters made the bold decision to ban movies from Universal Studios. This came on the heels of an unexpected, yet successful, VOD (video on demand) run of Trolls: World Tour. Since this announcement, a debate over which side made the right choice has started on the internet. After some consideration, I thought I’d join this debate by expressing my perspectives through this editorial. As you read in the title, I have sided with Universal Studios. In my editorial, I will highlight three reasons why I think Universal is in the right when it comes to this situation. Before I begin, I would like to point out that this post is not meant to be mean-spirited and negative toward anyone. This article is created to simply express my opinion.

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Universal Has More Mouths to Feed

It’s no secret that the Coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on the economy. Many industries have lost their finances as well as their employees. Because of the orders to “social-distance” and self-quarantine, businesses that attract large crowds have been forced to temporarily close their doors. Movie theaters are just one of them, with studios postponing some of their theatrical releases until it is safe for everyone to enjoy their films. Even though movie theaters have a legitimate place in communities around the world, they only offer one service: showing movies. The employees that work for any movie theater play an important role. But every job at that theater comes back to making the movie-going experience the best it can be. AMC Theatres offers a video on demand service, which means they have some more employees than a typical theater. However, Universal has different key components to their company. Besides the movie division, Universal also has a television department, with the ownership of NBC and other affiliated networks. Comcast is owned by Universal as well and they have four theme parks. Movie theaters have been financially impacted by the Coronavirus, but Universal Studios is also in the same boat.

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Universal Had Always Planned on Releasing Films Theatrically

When the CEOs of Regal and AMC Theaters have been asked about their decision to ban Universal’s movies, they have made it seem like Universal intentionally tried to hurt the movie theaters. Mooky Greidinger, the CEO of Regal’s parent company, Cineworld, said “not only did Universal provide no commitment for the future window – but Universal was the only studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released”. Meanwhile, Adam Aron, AMC’s CEO, said “this radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment”. Despite AMC and Regal’s animosity toward Universal, Universal claims they never intended to shut the theaters out. The studio said in a response to AMC that “we expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense”. Their recent actions seem to match these words. One of the first films that was rescheduled due to the Coronavirus was the latest James Bond installment, No Time to Die. It will get a theatrical release, but not until November 25th. Fast and Furious 9 was also postponed, receiving a theatrical date next April. While Universal has released some of their titles on VOD, most of them were smaller films. One of these films was the 2020 remake of Jane Austin’s Emma. Similar to Trolls: World Tour, this movie was released around the “eye of the storm”. To make up for financial losses, Universal adapted to the global situation the best they could and tried to keep their business afloat.

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The Movie Theaters Have Weak Arguments

Before writing this editorial, I read several articles and watched several videos about this subject. I have come to the conclusion that the arguments presented by the movie theaters are very weak. In an article from the website, Pirates & Princesses, Kambrea reports that John Fithian, the President and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, stated “Universal heavily marketed the title as a theatrical release, in theaters and elsewhere, for weeks on end”. As I mentioned before in this editorial, Trolls: World Tour was released around the Coronavirus’ “eye of the storm”. Universal, or any other company, did not know how bad the Coronavirus was going to get. If this had never happened and things had gone according to plan, Universal would have continued to release Trolls: World Tour in theaters. Earlier in this editorial, I also mentioned that AMC Theatres has a video on demand service. If they offered Trolls: World Tour on this service, wouldn’t AMC and Universal benefit from that decision? Even though AMC and Regal have banned Universal’s projects, the studio is not the only one to put their upcoming movies on VOD. Kambrea, from Pirates & Princesses, reported how Disney’s Artemis Fowl, which had a May 29th theatrical release, will now receive a June 12th release date on Disney+. In theory, Disney did the exact same thing Universal did. However, AMC and Regal have not announced any plans to ban Disney’s films from being shown at their theaters. This makes the theaters look hypocritical.

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The 21st century has never experienced a medical situation of this magnitude before. Because of this, all divisions of the economy were forced to respond the best they could. This includes Universal, who have multiple components to their company. I don’t believe they did anything wrong by releasing Trolls: World Tour on VOD. If anything, the movie theaters’ reaction to this choice has made them appear out-of-touch with not only the digital consumer landscape, but also with how this virus has affected the financial health of the economy. I understand that movie theaters need to make money to keep the lights on. But intentionally hurting another business is not going to make the Coronavirus go away any sooner. This kind of mindset is what makes companies regress, reminding me a lot of Blockbuster’s demise. Just because we are “social-distancing” doesn’t mean we have to push each other away.

 

Sally Silverscreen

 

Here are the sources for this editorial:

Is PVOD The Future of Hollywood Releases? North America Theatre Owners Hope Not

‘Artemis Fowl’ Releasing to Disney+ on June 12th

AMC, Regal Ban Universal Movies From Their Theaters After Studio Throws Rock at Theatrical Window

Universal Responds To AMC: Studio Believes In Theatrical, But Expects To Release Movies Directly To Theatres & PVOD When “Outlet Makes Sense”

https://www.amctheatres.com/about/on-demand

Universal Studios Theme Park Locations Worldwide

https://www.cnet.com/how-to/watch-trolls-world-tour-birds-of-prey-sonic-hedgehog-streaming-now/

Movies Delayed Because of Coronavirus

https://www.universalstudios.com/

https://18cinemalane.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/word-on-the-street-fast-and-furious-9-postponed-to-the-following-year/