As ‘Beast’ Tops Vudu, How PVOD May Help Save The Non-Franchise Movie

Vudu has announced that the top-selling (in terms of total revenue) title of the previous weekend was not Top Gun: Maverick but Beast. The ‘Idris Elba versus a lion’ thriller earned $30 million domestic from $11.5 million domestic debut and $51 million worldwide thus far on a $36 million budget. That’s not a hit in conventional ‘at least 2.5x the budget’ standards for theatrical distribution. However, as we’re currently seeing, the revenue being provided by PVOD, EST, DVD and streaming viewership may have created a new ecosystem. Even a film like Robert Eggers’ The Northman can break into the black despite earning $69.5 million worldwide on a $70 million budget ($35 million from Focus) thanks to PVOD and related post-theatrical revenue streams. We may see a post-Covid theatrical environment where studios are more, not less, motivated to produce and release a wider variety of films into theaters.

Studios still haven’t begun releasing actual numbers in terms of PVOD revenue. I don’t know how much money Michael Bay’s Ambulance earned on PVOD or how much ‘value’ it brought to Peacock. The (damn good) action drama, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Eiza Gonzalez and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, earned $51 million on a $40 million budget. Universal has remained in the Michael Bay business, bringing Platinum Dunes into the fold. The film was enough of a success in post-theatrical to justify more of its ilk. We know films that play in theaters perform better on VOD and (non-Netflix) streaming, thanks to marketing campaigns, increased awareness and related ‘prestige’ tied to a multiplex run than just-streaming titles. If the PVOD stream is as lucrative as it appears, with little cannibalization of theatrical, then it behooves the studios to make more, not less, low-to-mid-budget theatrical films of all shapes, sizes and genres.

I don’t want to declare that Comcast’s
PVOD system, which began in April of 2020 when they released Trolls: World Tour at $20-a-pop for a 48-hour rental, has ‘saved’ the studio programmer. That’s too simplistic. It’s still early in this new normal. Big tentpoles still generally perform better at home than smaller films. However, I’d feel more comfortable green-lighting a non-franchise, non-event movie for theaters than any moment since late 2015. It now has two chances to make money, theatrical where studios get 50% and PVOD where they get 80%, early in its existence. That’s before EST and DVD and before a film potentially juices streaming viewership for a high-priority first-party platform or supplies big bucks as a third-party lease. It doesn’t mean that every theatrical film will be profitable, but it may help mitigate the imbalance in terms of how much it costs to market even a modestly budgeted theatrical.

I have periodically discussed, as a best-case scenario for post-Covid theatrical, a future where more films of more sizes get theatrical releases as advertising for VOD or streaming. Think Warner Bros.’ early 2018 release of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase weeks before its VOD release. We may see that come to fruition in Fathom Events showings of Clerks III or limited theatrical releases for Paramount
titles like Confess Fletch, Orphan: First Kill and The Contractor. Lightyear is still a bomb. I don’t think Three Thousand Years of Longing will become a PVOD smash. Nonetheless, as theatrical gooses the streaming potential, maybe the ‘next’ Prey will get a crack at box office glory. If we now have a revenue stream of consumers who want to see theatrical releases soon but not immediately in theaters, a movie like Beast could be a hit at $51 million on a $36 million budget.

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