Traditionally, movie theaters get a 90-day exclusive window on new releases. That means films play in theaters for that period before they can go to pay television, streaming, or any other service.
That arrangement no longer makes sense, given that theaters are closing due to efforts to contain the coronavirus. Because of those closings and the fact that the box office numbers were dismal last week, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has decided to make new releases from its Universal Pictures studio available via streaming while they still play in theaters.
What is Universal doing?
The movie studio has decided to make three recent releases, The Hunt, Invisible Man, and Emma, available Friday for $19.99 for 48 hours on "a wide variety of on-demand services, including its parent company Comcast's cable networks," reported The Los Angeles Daily News.
In addition, Universal will also make its next release, Dreamworks cartoon Trolls World Tour, available on demand in conjunction with its Easter weekend theatrical release.
"Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable," NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said in a press release. "We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible."
Is this the right move?
People won't, and in many cases can't, go to theaters until the current outbreak passes. Offering first-run movies on demand makes sense. It's good for consumers who need things to do while stuck at home and it may help Universal salvage at least some of its investment in these films.