The coronavirus has forced many cinema chains to temporarily close as people opt to stay inside to help curb the spread of the virus. Naturally this has led to many delays of upcoming tentpole movie releases, but it’s also led to an interesting phenomenon in the VOD market.
Multiple studios have announced that films that were either in cinemas recently or still out in theatres at the time Covid-19 changed everything will be getting early VOD releases for people to watch at home.
Universal announced that The Invisible Man and The Hunt are among their offerings that will be available to rent online, while Warner Bros. will release Birds Of Prey for VOD rental as well.
This move has obviously been made in an attempt to keep the studios profitable during these tough times, but it could be the opening of a dam.
There’s long been a battle between studios, cinema chains and VOD/streaming services regarding how long it should take a film to be available on demand.
Typically, films become available for digital purchase about 74 days after they debut in cinemas, and available for rental two weeks later. That’s an 88-day traditional window, but in this case, Birds Of Prey will arrive on digital 46 days after release.
The Invisible Man and The Hunt were both still in cinemas, and are now essentially getting released on demand at the same time as their theatrical release, something that’s long been fought against by cinema chains, fearing that that sort of at-home access will kill their business.
Obviously this is all temporary. The traditional window will return once social distancing suggestions are relaxed. At the same time, this could be the opening streaming platforms need to convince studios to change their methods.
What if Warner Bros. witness a massive demand for Birds Of Prey rentals? Will they consider a shorter window between cinema release and VOD from now on?
And what if The Hunt makes more money on demand than it made at the cinema? Obviously these are unusual times and, with this many people staying at home at once, studios can’t expect the same sort of volume of rentals all the time, but this could be the start of a drastic change in Hollywood if the numbers – the all important bottom line – tell studios that earlier VOD releasing is a more profitable strategy.
At the same time, the rental pricing for the films is quite high – $19.99 and equivalent pricing in other countries – so it seems studios are being cautious not to just give away these movies.
Still, consider a future where a cinema ticket for a new film costs $12, and the VOD price for the same film, released at the same time, costs $20. There will be plenty of people willing to save the cost of petrol and other expenses and pay a little more for the at-home experience.
Right now, everything is strange, so it’s hard to gauge whether this will be significant or not. We’ll wait and see if these temporary changes lead to anything more permanent down the road.