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Movie theater giant Cineworld has weighed in on the growing controversy regarding Universal’s decision to release Trolls World Tour on premium VOD instead of waiting for cinemas to reopen post-coronavirus pandemic, claiming that the studio took advantage of the crisis.
In a statement sent Wednesday, Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger didn’t hold back, highlighting a message he sent to Comcast chairman Brian Roberts in mid-March, after Universal announced that Trolls 2 would be released in breach of the theatrical window.
“Nice words from your team are worthless if we cannot trust you as a partner,” he wrote to Roberts, explaining that Cineworld’s other partners had called the exhibitor in a “timely manner” and explained that they wanted to shorten the window for movies already released and had “reassured us” that there would be no change to their window policy once business resumed.
“Unfortunately I missed similar message in Universal’s announcement … not only did Universal provide no commitment for the future window, but Universal was the only studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released.”
Cineworld claimed that Universal’s move was “completely inappropriate” and “certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.” It also said that in the future it would not be showing movies that “fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us.”
The comments come just one day after NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell sparked anger from the exhibitor world after claiming that the success of Trolls World Tour, which racked up an estimated $100 million in premium VOD rentals in its first three weeks in North America, would see Universal change its release strategy post-coronavirus.
“The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the numbers. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”
In response to Shell’s quotes, AMC Theatres, the world’s largest chain, retaliated by saying it would no longer play any of the studio’s films.
“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice,” wrote AMC co-chair Adam Aron in a strongly worded letter to Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley. “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.”
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