Even as “F9” opened as an international theatrical hit, Universal made its streaming priorities clear: “The Boss Baby: Family Business” will debut day-and-date July 2 in theaters and on Peacock while a theater-only release is set for the same day in the rest of the world.
The original 2017 DreamWorks Animation release, “The Boss Baby,” grossed $175 million in North America and double that in the rest of the world. It was previously scheduled as a theater-only release September 17. Universal’s theatrical releases fall under an established Premium VOD deal that allows for PVOD showings after 17 or 31 days, depending on opening gross. This includes revenue sharing with at least some exhibitors.
This announcement indicates that whatever the intricacies of that agreement, Universal retained the right to play films of their choosing day and date via streaming, with theaters then free to play at their choice.
From the perspective of domestic theaters who may have felt they’d come to an understanding with Universal. In terms of premium product for its streaming strategy, however, Universal appeared to lag behind Disney+ and HBO Max in bolster its service with new or recent theatrical-level films. Peacock currently has approximately 42 million subscribers.
Animated films are key for all streamers. It’s essential to Disney+, while Netflix has deals with DreamWorks Animation and Sony Animation. Currently, Netflix has four animated titles in its top 10: the South African production “Jungle Beat: The Movie,” Sony’s “The Millers vs. the Machines,” Universal Animation’s “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” and DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar.” Figure Peacock would have gotten “Pets” and “Madagscar” eventually, but now Universal has found a way to get a DreamWorks Animation first.
For domestic theaters, this stings. Although it would never be good news, the timing suggests that even if they show recovery, theaters are not the point. After an initial stellar weekend for “F9” in early territories ($163 million, led by China), and right before the most important weekend for theaters in over a year with the openings of “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Cruella” (this one a Disney+/PVOD release), Universal shows its cards by elevating Peacock — where the film will be available for no additional charge for subscribers).
Even if theaters can somehow replicate 2019 grosses on top titles, they still face the reality that they may have fewer chances to do so. It also means the theater-friendly Universal continues to explore alternative options. Others may follow suit. For theaters, the siege never abates.