In news that could have enormous ramifications for the future of movie theaters, AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures have reached an agreement that would shorten the time between a film’s premiere in multiplexes and its debut on streaming. Traditionally, major blockbusters wait at least 70-90 days from their theatrical debut to become available on VOD. Now, AMC and Universal agreed to let some films go from theaters to PVOD (premium video on demand, meaning higher prices) after only 17 days.

According to the Associated Press...

The new deal covers Universal films in the U.S. over the next three years. After a run of at least three weekends, Universal (and its specialty label, Focus Features) will have the option of steering a film to premium on-demand services, including AMC’s own service. The companies noted the shortened window only applies to premium video-on-demand — which often means digital rentals of $20 — not standard on-demand or other home platforms.

According to The New York Times Brooks Barnes, “AMC will be getting a cut of Universal PVOD revenue” as part of this new deal, which gives them a big financial incentive to shorten that window, which traditionally protected movie theaters’ turf.

The deal comes after AMC “banned” Universal movies from its theaters earlier this spring, when Universal decided not to delay its March release Trolls World Tour after movie theaters closed due to the pandemic. Instead, they shifted the movie to a PVOD release. AMC, which controls 1,000 theaters globally and is the largest theater chain in the United States, holds enough market share to make that ban, had they stuck to it, a significant problem for Universal.

In practice, AMC never banned anything because theaters have remained closed in the interim. The question now becomes whether AMC will strike similar deals with other studios, and whether Universal or other studios will strike similar deals with theater chains like Regal. But if this shortened theatrical window becomes the new standard, it could have a major impact on the finances of theaters of all shapes and sizes.

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