‘Trolls World Tour’ digital release breaks records, portends doom for theaters

With nearly five million rentals, the digital release of “Trolls World Tour” has in three weeks generated more revenue for Universal than the original “Trolls” did during its five-month theatrical run.

‘Trolls World Tour’ was made available as a digital rental, part of an industrywide push to change the way movies are released with the nation’s theaters closed. (Image: Dreamworks Animation/Associated Press)
‘Trolls World Tour’ was made available as a digital rental, part of an industrywide push to change the way movies are released with the nation’s theaters closed. (Image: Dreamworks Animation/Associated Press)

Erich Schwartzel for The Wall Street Journal:

Last month, as the nation’s movie theaters were days from closing down, executives at Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures moved on a decision that would soon pay off handsomely.

A massive marketing campaign was already under way for the studio’s April 10 release, “Trolls World Tour,” an animated sequel to the 2016 hit. The studio decided not to postpone the opening, instead making the movie available as a digital rental on platforms like Apple Inc.’s Apple TV for $19.99.

Three weeks later, “Trolls World Tour” has racked up nearly $100 million in rentals… For studios, the prospect is especially alluring because they retain about 80% of the digital rental or purchase fee—compared with about 50% of box-office sales…

For years, studios have debated movie theaters over their requirement to show a movie exclusively for more than two months before screening at home, all while watching Netflix Inc. dominate at-home entertainment. With theaters closed, studios are jumping at the chance to experiment with getting first-run releases into the home sooner…

When Universal announced its “Trolls” release plan in March, exhibitors accused the studio of taking advantage of the pandemic to advance its long-term goal, and said practices would return to normal after the theaters reopen.

“A limited number of exceptions doesn’t really make a changed business model,” said John Fithian, chief executive of the National Association of Theatre Owners.

MacDailyNews Take: “And people will continue buying buggy whips!” Fithian’s great grandfather insisted.

Let’s see:

A) $19.99 for a first-run movie in the comfort of your own house on a large screen, with controllable audio volume (even closed captioning if you desire), with the entire family and your own all-you-can-eat popcorn, candy, and drinks for under $10 total for everyone


B) At least $80.00 for a family of four with criminally-overpriced often-stale popcorn, candy, and drinks at a potentially COVID-encrusted theater packed with uncouth idiots from who-knows-where talking, eating, coughing, sneezing, crunching bags, looking their phones, getting up to go to the bathroom, etc.

It’s such a difficult choice!

The $10 bucket of 10-cents worth of popcorn and the $6 cup of 6-cents worth of soda are obvious clues that theatre owners don’t have a sustainable business model.

Bottom line: It took a global pandemic to wake up Hollywood and drag it kicking and screaming into the new millennium at least a decade late. We’re sure Steve Jobs was telling Hollywood honchos this would happen long ago.


  1. The biggest difference is the screen size and the opportunity for a family outing. Granted it costs more but, given our current situation, the appeal of going out would be a novelty.

    Personally, there are a select few movies that I got to see at the theatre. Then it’s PPV for the second ranked movies and finally Netflix / On Demand for the rest.

  2. Re: MDN Take, the popcorn is the only good thing about movie theatres. With streaming first-run movies, and if 711 started selling fresh-popped popcorn, theatres would be finished.

  3. For lots of movies, seeing it in a crowded theater, sharing the experience together, makes all the difference. Comedies, horror films, musicals — there’s something special you get at a theater that’s just missing alone…

  4. Then there’s IMAX. Tough to get that at home. But all of these small issues pale in comparison to the benefits of watching at home. Theaters will have to close.

  5. I wish theaters had restrooms for each screen, with the audio of the movie playing so you miss less.

    For some of us, there is real value in not being able to pause the screen every five minutes to deal with endless interruptions. I agree that seeing a film with an audience does add something.

  6. Don’t forget one more huge advantage: 48 hour rental with unlimited views. Our child watched Trolls at least four times in two days, maybe more. It was actually a lot of fun! If not for the 48 hours we wouldn’t have dropped $20.

  7. So good points on all sides, but one other thing to consider is image quality. How compressed is the image you see on your TV vs what you see in the theater? Most people probably don’t even notice the difference, but once the net gets more saturated with content like this, the Big Players have no intention of improving infrastructure to handle the load when they can compress content more. The same mediocre quality we’ve all gotten used to in cell calls will be the norm for video soon enough as well.

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