The big entertainment news this week: the AMC Theatres chain is refusing to carry any and all Universal films. This is due to Universal’s success with releasing to video on demand (VOD) “Trolls World Tour,” a sequel to the original “Trolls” film. Given all movie theaters are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Universal figured they didn’t have much choice (either that or push back its release, like all other Hollywood films). What set AMC off, however, was NBCUniversal’s head stating he was hoping to release future films in a similar VOD manner.
Granted, AMC has a lot at stake if VOD takes off for movies. However, they’re also rumored to be filing for bankruptcy, which doesn’t seem to give them much room to blacklist the studio that’s the home of the “Fast and the Furious” and “Jurassic Park” franchises. AMC also is a massive multiplex chain, with all that the modern movie-going experience involves (less “movie magic,” more “nuisance“).
I’d also note Universal’s owned by Comcast, America’s biggest cable and broadband company… and also one of its most despised companies. Thus, it might be hard to root for either side, especially since it’s all about money versus creativity/serving the public.
That said, while $20 for a VOD movie is still a bit pricey for one person, it’s a better deal for two or more people versus going to a theater, as I’ll show below.
Cost of VOD versus a traditional theatrical movie night
I’m using the price for an evening movie at a local theater in Seattle, and microwave popcorn/soda costs based on what I saw during my last trip to the store. I’m also assuming a “movie night” includes popcorn and soda. Yes, there’s “combo” deals at theaters, and costs may vary, but I’m working with what data I can find. The theaters’ own websites seem to bury such pricing, unsurprisingly.
For one person
At a traditional movie theater:
- Ticket: $14
- Medium popcorn: $7.89
- Medium soda: $5.89
- Total: $27.78
- VOD: $20
- Microwave popcorn (1 bag out of a 3 pack box): $1
- Soda (one-half of a 2L bottle): $1
- Total: $22
For two people
At a theater:
- Ticket: $28
- Large popcorn: $8.89
- Two medium sodas: $11.78
- Total: $48.67
- VOD: $20
- Microwave popcorn (1 bag, shared): $1
- Soda (one 2L bottle): $2
- Total: $23
For a family of four (two adults, two kids)
At a theater:
- Ticket: $51
- Large popcorn (two): $17.78
- Four medium sodas: $23.56
- Total: $92.34
- VOD: $20
- Microwave popcorn (two bags): $2
- Soda (two 2L bottles): $4
- Total: $26
For not much more than the cost of the VOD rental, one could have an enjoyable and affordable movie night at home. While the cost difference between a theater and VOD isn’t much for one person, VOD becomes a bargain when two or more people are included. Between that, the high quality of the home theater experience nowadays, and that movie attendance will likely be low or nonexistent until a coronavirus vaccine is created, I can see why AMC is hopping mad.
Still, in my case, I prefer watching movies at home these days. Again, the movie-going experience tends to be annoying: no intermissions; too many trailers and ads before the film starts; it’s expensive; and finally, there’s sitting in a crowded theater with annoying strangers. My only reason to go to a theater these days is to get out of the house and/or not wanting to avoid spoilers for months. Otherwise, something like the excessively long and intermission-less three hour run time of “Avengers: Endgame” would’ve been an automatic “wait for the video.”