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Big Digital Debut by ‘Trolls World Tour’ May Have Created New Movie Release Model

Stephanie Sengwe

It seems the success of “Trolls World Tour” might have just changed the way movies are released. The film, which was meant to hit theaters on April 10, wound up skipping its theatrical run altogether and went to digital release as the coronavirus outbreak made it impossible for movie theaters to remain open.

Now, only three weeks after its digital release, the movie has raked in over $100 million in rentals and studios are looking into the benefits of digitally releasing films. According to The Wall Street Journal, one big perk of digital releases is that studios get to retain a larger chunk of the earnings. While they would have to split box-office earnings 50-50 with movie theaters, digital releases allow for studios to retain 80 percent of the digital rental or purchase fee.

“Universal has made more than $77 million in revenue from ‘Trolls World Tour’ so far. That means ‘Trolls World Tour’ has generated about $95 million in rental fees from nearly five million customers since its release,” a source verified with the Journal. “The same amount of revenue during a theatrical run would have required a box-office gross of $154 million, or about the final tally of the original ‘Trolls’ movie. The sequel cost about $90 million to produce.”

With “Trolls World Tour,” doing so well, it now seems as though the debate on whether or not it’s necessary for movies to exclusively show in theaters for more than two months before screening at home just got hotter. Though “Trolls World Tour,” broke records across several streaming platforms, researchers at NBCUniversal found that, “51 percent of people who rented the sequel said they would have ‘definitely’ seen the movie in theaters. About one-fifth said they rarely or never rent movies from digital services.”

Nonetheless, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, who has long been an advocate for early digital releases, is willing to conduct the experiment once again. According to the Journal, Universal will employ the same release strategy for โ€œThe King of Staten Island,โ€ a new comedy directed by Judd Apatow, which was meant to hit theaters on June 19.

While the pandemic has given studios the opportunity to experiment in the digital arena, theatrical releases for blockbusters such as “Fast & Furious” still remain as mega cash cows for studios. In addition, theater owners also believe that the early success of these digital releases may just be a fluke. John Fithian, chief executive of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told The Wall Street Journal: “A limited number of exceptions doesnโ€™t really make a changed business model.โ€