Culture Clips: Is Universal Trolling Theater Chains?


A couple of weeks ago—or, in quarantine time, several eons ago—we reported on the initial success of Trolls World Tour as it rolled out on video (instead of the theatrical blitz Universal Pictures originally intended). Turns out, the early returns were no mirage. Universal reported yesterday that in the space of three weeks, World Tour has earned $100 million in digital rental fees. That’s not quite what the original Trolls movie made, admittedly, but here’s the thing: Theatrical grosses are split evenly between the studio and theaters, according to The Wrap. With digital rentals, about 80% of the cash goes straight back to Universal. So in essence, you can make more money while making less money. Simple, right?

Forbes’ Scott Mendelson reminds us that profitability is a little more involved than that, writing that “whether Trolls: World Tour is a hit may not be determined for a while.” But Universal was bullish enough on the movie’s results to fire off what some thought was a broadside against the traditional multiplex. Talking to The Wall Street Journal, Universal CEO Jeff Shell said, “The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD. As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

That did not sit well with those theaters, who see simultaneous releases as a massive threat to their bottom line. AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron quickly issued a statement:

It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.

Not to be outdone on the statement front, Universal issued one of its own, saying that Shell’s comments were misconstrued. “We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary,” the statement read. “As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theaters, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense.”

But as popular as Trolls World Tour might’ve been, it’s not the most popular thing on TV. No, that honor goes to the NFL Draft. With both the drafters and the draftees stuck at home, some wondered whether the draft would work at all. Clearly it did. Viewers obsessed almost as much about the interior decorating as they did about the picks, and oddly Bill Belichick’s dog earned more press than any of the college athletes drafted.

The draft also utterly obliterated previous ratings records for the event: Thursday night’s coverage of the first round (spread across ABC, the NFL Network and various iterations of ESPN) banked an average of 15.6 million viewers—3.2 million more people than tuned into watch the then-record 2014 first round. As The Hollywood Reporter noted, “The 15.6 million people who watched the draft Thursday is almost as many as the average for actual NFL games last season.” Across the three days of the draft, an average of 8.4 million tuned in, again smashing the old record of 6.2 million. It’s a sign, says Time magazine, of our country’s hunger for sports and a desire to return to something resembling normalcy. Wrote Sean Gregory:

A couple of weeks ago, the thought of the NFL conducting a virtual version of its draft felt wholly inappropriate. During this devastating pandemic, with the rest of the sports world shut down, the league was going to conduct business as usual? But America, it seems, is longing for the kind of shared communal experiences that sports can deliver.

(But sports are still off the docket for now, which has some wondering … why are we still paying for sports channels in our cable packages?)

The coronavirus and its quarantine is wearing on a lot of us. A recent study found that it’s especially affecting Gen Z-ers and Millennials, both of which have been disproportionately impacted by furloughs and layoffs in service industries. But all of us are apparently sick of being stuck in our houses, with cell data suggesting that more and more of us are sneaking out for a little fresh air. Oh, and while platforms like Zoom have allowed us to connect with co-workers, friends and family, the calls can be kind of exhausting in their own right. (USA Today explains why.)

But these quarantining days aren’t all filled with bad news. Netflix is still loving it, boasting millions of new subscribers. It’s become so critical to our well-being, some believe, that they’re asking that Netflix give away its services. But the quarantine has been good for family time, too, if a new study from the United Kingdom is accurate. Four out of five British parents say that their families have gotten closer during coronavirus lockdowns. Even beards are seeing a resurgence.

And one 8-year-old boy got a new friend out of the crisis—a really famous one.

Named Corona, the Australian lad has been beset by bullies because of his name during this difficult time. But when he learned that Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson had contracted the disease, Corona took the time to write and ask if they were OK. Hanks wrote back, and sent the kid a Corona typewriter with which he wrote the letter on. He included a special handwritten thought, too: “You got a friend in me!” it said.

No trolling there.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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