Cineworld looks set to join Odeon in refusing to show Universal movies in its cinemas when they eventually reopen, as the row escalates.

Well, things are escalating.

Yesterday, we reported on the growing row between Odeon Cinemas parent AMC and Universal, over the latter’s confirmation that it’s going to look at exploring more premium video on demand releases in the future. This follows the success of Trolls World Tour, that the studio opted to release straight to on demand, rather than delay its cinema release until later in the year. Stories have been plentiful this week about just how commercially well Trolls World Tour has done.

AMC has, as you probably know, introduced an outright ban on showing Universal releases going forward, until the studio engages in dialogue with exhibitors. Other cinema chains in the US are standing alongside AMC as well, with Regal throwing its weight behind its fellow exhibitor.

The issue is that Universal has indicated, seemingly without discussion with exhibitors, that it’ll be looking to look at releasing films on demand in tandem with theatrical in some cases. It would be fair to say it didn’t go down very well with some in the industry.

Now Cineworld in the UK has had its say as well, and has criticised Universal for what it calls “inappropriate” behaviour. It also added that the chain will no longer show films that “fail to respect the windows” of a cinema release. It’s pretty clear who that is aimed at.

“Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the Covid-19 crisis when our business is closed”, Cineworld has said in a statement, noting that “more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas”

“Universal’s move is completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency”.

“Cineworld’s roots go back 90 years in the industry and it was always open to showing any movie as long as the rules were kept and not changed by one sided moves. Today we make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us”, it wrote, arguing “Universal was the only studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released”.

The full statement is over at the Screen site, here.

Universal, for its part, has said in the US that it still believes in the theatrical experience “and made no statement to the contrary”, and stuck to its plan to “expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense”

Bottom line: we’ve not heard the last of this. And with cinemas some weeks away from reopening, there’s no rush on anybody’s side to get this sorted out imminently.

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