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Could Universal affect cinema by releasing new releases on-demand?

Universal Pictures has decided to make its current and upcoming films available for on-demand rental, so viewers don’t need to leave their home. This decision has obviously been prompted by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, but the virus has affected more parts of the cinema industry than you might think.

For UK customers, Universal will be working with Sky to ensure that the films will be available to rent in the Sky Store. Recently released films will be available for 48-hour rental, priced at £15.99 and will include titles such as The Hunt, Emma and The Invisible Man. The service will be available from Fri 20 Mar 2020.

The first reason for this change is because mass gatherings are now to be avoided at all costs. This has resulted in the closure of some cinemas and others only allowing a limited number of people into screenings. Social distancing and self-isolation are the recommended means of preventing the spread of coronavirus. The pandemic has now reached a point where going to the cinema could be dangerous which has forced Universal to act.

This, in turn, has led to another issue, this time on the financial side. Ticket sales are the lowest they have been in a long time. Renting the films on-demand is a clear attempt to mitigate the financial hit whilst also pleasing the customer by making the films available. Many fans, I included, have been gutted by news that James Bond’s No Time to Die has been postponed until November. The decision to rent on-demand will make a lot of cinema fans happy.

Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, said in a statement: “Universal Pictures has a broad and diverse range of movies with 2020 being no exception. Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable.”

This new way of delivering new films to people could change the way cinema works long after coronavirus disappears but as of now, it is unknown. The most likely scenario is that this is a one-off occurrence and that people return to cinemas to see global premieres. The experience of going to the cinema with friends and family, enjoying fizzy drinks, sweets and popcorn will always be special.

However, it remains a possibility that people enjoy watching new films from home enough that it becomes a viable method of distribution in the future. After all, this new method is easier for the customer and people like things to be easy. With the amount of media that is online, anything is possible.

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