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Universal Filmed Entertainment Group and sister streaming service Peacock are joining forces in a major way, the two companies said Tuesday.
Beginning in 2022, all movies from the Universal empire will hit Peacock no later than four months after they open in theaters. This accelerates what’s traditionally referred to as the pay-one home entertainment window, which — in pre-pandemic times — didn’t kick in for six to seven months.
Universal and Peacock aren’t alone in linking arms as other majors — such as WarnerMedia, Disney and Paramount — likewise make their prime film titles available early on their respective streaming services.
However, Universal is going further in deciding to carve up the 18th month pay-one window so as to license its across content across a variety of platforms. For the first and last four months, movies will play exclusively on Peacock; for the intervening 10 months, they will be made available to other partners that have yet to be disclosed. HBO — which is currently Universal’s pay-one partner — isn’t believed to be among them.
UFEG vice chairman Peter Levinsohn said the new dynamic pay-one agreement proves the company’s “continued commitment to building a film ecosystem that allows filmmakers and artists to reach the broadest possible audience, celebrates and strengthens the theatrical experience, and, above all, empowers fans to experience the films they love on their own terms.”
Levinsohn added, “We’re excited to become Peacock’s first pay-one partner while the platform continues to curate and build a vast film library that will delight its rapidly growing subscriber base.”
Separately, Tuesday’s announcement formalized an arrangement whereby Universal’s production team will develop and produce a selection of original films exclusively for Peacock. No specific titles were announced, but they are expected to begin debuting on the streamer in 2022.
Universal’s theatrical release calendar for 2022 includes Jurassic World: Dominion; a new original film from Jordan Peele; DreamWorks Animation’ The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish; and Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, among numerous other offerings.
The pay-one licensing deal between Peacock and UFEG includes titles from Universal proper, specialty label Focus Features, Illumination and DWA.
“Since launching Peacock just one year ago, we have seen incredible viewership of movies and continue to expand our catalog with a range of films for every fan and occasion,” said Matt Strauss, Chairman, Direct-to-Consumer and International, NBCUniversal.
“Universal Filmed Entertainment Group has been a fantastic partner and we are excited to not only bring their amazing slate of blockbuster films and beloved franchises to Peacock in the first-pay window, but also provide a steady stream of fresh, original films exclusively for Peacock customers throughout the year,” Strauss continued.
Peacock has struggled since its launch one year ago to compete against streaming heavyweights like Netflix and Disney+. NBCU parent company Comcast disclosed in April that it is expecting losses of $2 billion in 2020 and 2021 as it invests in the streaming service. Though Peacock reached 42 million signups in April fewer than 10 million have paid for a subscription to Peacock, which start at $4.99 a month for an ad-supported subscription, The Wall Street Journal reported on June 23. (Netflix and Disney+ have about 208 million and 103.6 million global subscribers, respectively.)
The streamer also missed out on an early boost due to the delay of the Tokyo Olympics, which NBCUniversal expected to use to promote Peacock shortly after its launch. But those plans will play out this summer now that Peacock has NBC’s live streaming rights to popular Olympic games, meaning that diehard fans of gymnastics, track and field and men’s basketball will need to use Peacock if they want to stream the events live.
Universal and parent company NBCU have been pioneers in terms of collapsing theatrical and home entertainment windows. At the beginning of the pandemic, as theaters were forced to close, Universal struck a deal with major exhibitors that created a new premium VOD window that commences anywhere from 30 days to 45 days after a movie opens in theaters. (Accelerating the pay-one window does not require a deal with exhibitors.)
Warner Bros. went even further when announcing that its entire 2021 slate would debut day-and-date in cinemas and on HBO Max. As the box office recovery continues, Disney has chosen to make select titles available immediately on Disney+ Premier Access for an additional $30. That includes Marvel upcoming Black Widow.
Like Universal, Paramount and Sony are mostly relying on some sort of exclusive theatrical release before sending a film to the home.
J. Clara Chan contributed reporting.
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