Trolls World Tour skipped theaters but won the weekend's digital rentals

It did 10-times better than the studio's biggest digital release before it. But that doesn't mean you'll get more brand new movies to watch in your coronavirus quarantine.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

Trolls World Tour is coming straight to your home.

Dreamworks Animation

Trolls World Tour, one of the first movies to test its fortunes in the  coronavirus pandemic by skipping theaters in favor of online rentals, dominated the weekend's home viewing stores. It was the No. 1 on-demand title on Amazon, Comcast, Apple, Vudu, Google/YouTube, DirecTV and FandangoNOW, parent company NBCUniversal said Monday. And Trolls World Tour did about 10 times the business of the studio's next biggest opening day for a traditional digital release.

But whether you'll be able to watch more brand new movies by renting them at home is still a big question mark. 

Trolls World Tour, a DreamWorks Animation movie from studio Universal, was originally supposed to open in theaters Friday. But with cinemas shuttered because of coronavirus, it became a test of what's known as a day-and-date release, when the theatrical debut and home-viewing release are the same day. It's something that Netflix has advocated for years, infuriating theater owners in the process. But no traditional studio would touch it, until now. 

Other studios have mostly decided to postpone the release of new movies, like No Time to DieMulanF9 and A Quiet Place Part 2, as theaters closed and coronavirus preventive measures kept people out cinema seats. But NBCUniversal's move is the first time a major Hollywood studio has so dramatically collapsed the traditional life cycle of a film release. Usually movies spend roughly six months exclusively in cinemas before they move to other formats, like digital downloads and rentals, DVDs and, later, TV and streaming. (Theater owners are incensed at NBCUniversal too.)

Delays are especially likely for the biggest budget "tentpole" films. Universal's own Fast and Furious franchise often has film budgets exceeding $200 million, plus millions more spent on huge marketing campaigns. Earlier in March, Universal opted to delay F9's release nearly a year.

But NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said last month that Universal preferred for Trolls World Tour to have a day-and-date release to give people the option to watch it at home rather than delaying. 

"We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible," he said then. (A week after NBCU announced the Trolls World Tour strategy, Shell was diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. He said he was improving daily in a memo to staff.)

Yet Universal's data Monday didn't have hard numbers, which would give a clearer glimpse at whether you may be getting more new movies to watch at home day-and-date -- either during this pandemic or after. NBCUniversal said it "will wait for a clearer picture of results that will emerge in the coming weeks before sharing additional statistics." 

Still, Universal has to decide soon about straight-to-digital releases: The studio's next big film on its release slate is its Minions sequel in July. 

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