Some major movies still playing in cinemas will be released to stream at home in an unprecedented move in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the US, Universal will release The Invisible Man, Emma and The Hunt – all still in theatrical release – to video-on-demand platforms such as iTunes and Google Play for rent. It will also release Trolls: World Tour for digital at-home rental at the same time as its cinema release.
It will cost more than a usual digital rental at US$19.99 for a 48-hour period, but it is cheaper than two cinema tickets.
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So far, this is only happening in the US and some select international markets.
The Invisible Man and Emma are both in New Zealand cinemas now while The Hunt will land in cinemas some tinme this year.
Universal's decision in the US reflects the changing landscape of entertainment as the coronavirus pandemic lays waste to years of careful release planning. Many upcoming blockbusters have been pulled from the release schedule, including Bond movie No Time To Die, Mulan, Fast & Furious 9 and Peter Rabbit 2.
Disney has moved forward the cinematic release of Pixar movie Onward, which was originally due for release on April 2, to March 26, with sneak previews this coming weekend.
Entertainment companies, facing a barrage of disruption that has also seen productions on upcoming TV and films suspended, has had to react quickly to minimise exposure, or take advantage of audiences now trapped at home in self-isolation or practising social distancing.
Disney announced over the weekend Frozen 2 will be released to its subscription streaming service Disney+ three months early, starting today.
In many countries and cities across the world, cinemas have been shut, starting with China's 70,000 screens in late January. There are fears some cinemas won't survive a prolonged shutdown, especially independent outlets.
Traditionally there's a three-month gap between when a film is shown in cinemas and when it can be released on home entertainment platforms – that's called the theatrical window. In some markets, such as France, that period is longer.
The theatrical window has been under pressure for some time as new entertainment players such as Netflix entered the fray. When Netflix started to make original movies, it originally mandated a same day release (known in the industry as day-and-date) between cinemas and its streaming platform.
Netflix now observes a two-to-four week window between cinematic release and streaming release, but only on its high-profile films with awards possibilities – awards bodies such as the Oscars mandate a theatrical release for eligibility.
Many of the larger cinema chains the world over refuse to screen Netflix movies because the California company won't observe the theatrical window, leaving the streamer to screen its films in smaller chains or independent cinemas.
Stan faced the same challenge when it released True History of the Kelly Gang through distributor Transmission in January this year, two weeks prior to its streaming release.
There's been debate over the long-term sustainability of the theatrical window for some years. The onset of the coronavirus seems to be settling that debate.