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Amazon Prime Video will stream new Universal movies 4 months after Peacock

Universal live-action theatrical movies, like Jurassic World: Dominion, will stream on Amazon about eight months after hitting theaters, starting next year.

Angela Lang/CNET

Amazon Prime Video will exclusively stream live-action movies from Universal's film studios about eight months after they hit theaters and four months after they stream exclusively on rival service Peacock first, according to a complex new licensing deal between Amazon and NBCUniversal announced Thursday. The deal joins others confirming how the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed big-screen movie release cycles, making new films available to stream sooner and on more services than ever before. 

The deal also signifies how movie licensing, already a byzantine network of deals that tends to baffle regular movie fans, is getting even more complicated. 

Basically, live-action films from Universal's studios will first be released in theaters, as they were before. But starting with movies coming out next year, like Jurassic World: Dominion, they'll quickly become available to stream. First, they'll stream exclusively on Peacock, the streaming service operated by NBCUniversal itself, within four months of hitting theaters. Then after another four months, they'll leave Peacock and hop over to Amazon's Prime Video, where they'll be available for several months. 

This part of the deal, which is a unique way of slicing and dicing what's known as the pay-one window, doesn't apply to any Universal animated movies. So DreamWorks and Illumination projects like Minions: The Rise of Gru and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish won't be on Prime Video following their stints on Peacock. Those animated movies will make it onto Prime Video eventually but not until much later; the companies didn't specify the timing. 

The licensing deal also includes terms that'll give Amazon Prime Video and Amazon's free streaming service, IMDb TV, a variety of other Universal titles to stream at various points. IMDb TV, for example, will eventually stream movies that Universal released last year and this year, including current box-office hit F9, as well as a selection of older animated movies like Despicable Me 2, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Shrek 2. 

"This agreement further delivers on our distribution strategy to monetize our unparalleled movie library across multiple services, while offering customers the most choice, control and flexibility in how, when and where they watch films," Peter Levinsohn, vice chairman and chief distribution officer of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, said in a statement. 

Typically, movies licensed in a pay-one window would be available to watch on a streaming service or TV network roughly nine months after a film's theatrical release. But the last year has seen a dramatic collapse of these windows as the COVID-19 pandemic forced cinemas to close and limit attendance around the world, decimating the box office. Studios, distributors and theater chains are now in the throes of figuring out how long cinemas should enjoy exclusives on new movies as public health restrictions finally begin allowing theaters to reopen widely again. Though it's too early to know what movie release cycles will be like after the pandemic, agreements so far indicate they'll never be the same. 

People can subscribe to Amazon Prime Video directly, but most of its viewing is believed to stem from members of Amazon's Prime program, which is best known for accelerated shipping of goods bought on Amazon. Prime Video is a bonus perk of a Prime membership, but even though Prime has more than 100 million members worldwide, it's unclear how many of those people actually watch Prime Video. 

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