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Donna Langley, head of Universal Motion Picture Entertainment Group, took the stage at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas last week and reaffirmed her commitment to cinema.

“Theater will always be the cornerstone of our business,” he told the crowd of theater owners gathered for the annual CinemaCon industry convention, adding, “Hello to that.”

It wasn’t just a word service. With over 25 films coming out in 2022, Universal has at least 10 more films than any other major Hollywood studio. It will release a combination of blockbusters (“Jurassic World Dominion”), family dishes (“Minions: The Rise of Gru”) and original bets (“Nope” and “Beast” by Jordan Peele, starring Idris Elba), operating on the premise that the value of a film begins with its theatrical debut.

Yet on Monday, as part of a presentation for advertisers, Kelly Campbell, president of NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock, announced that three new films produced by Universal Pictures will go directly to the streaming service when they debut in 2023.

They are a biopic about LeBron James based on his memoir, “Shooting Stars”; a remake of John Woo’s 1989 drama “The Killer”; and “Praise This”, a feature film of a music competition set in the world of the youth choir.

The film’s additional content is central to Peacock’s strategy, which last week announced that it closed the first quarter of the year with more than 13 million paying subscribers and 28 million monthly active accounts in the United States, with growth of four million users. It needs to find a way to compete with bigger services, like Netflix, Disney +, and HBO Max, when the number of streaming subscribers seems to stabilize.

Ms. Langley gave the green light to all three images and had to make phone calls to inform the filmmakers of the change in distribution strategy.

“I think everyone woke up and smelled coffee during the pandemic and recognized that not all films are created equal,” Ms. Langley said in an interview, adding that the filmmakers were still interested in working with the studio. even if it meant going straight to the Peacock. “It’s a big deal for Peacock to have these films. They are events for them. And we got yes, so I think it was a satisfying logic. “

The three films also reflect the kind of audiences Peacock seems to attract so far: younger and more diverse than those gravitating towards the other legacy businesses run by Comcast, Peacock’s parent company.

“What you will see with these films is that they are largely attractive, but they also follow that young and diverse audience that represents today’s streaming audience, the generation of consumers who choose streaming as their primary source of entertainment,” Campbell said in an interview.

Despite lagging behind some of its streaming competitors, Peacock has been successful this year. February was a highlight as viewers were able to watch the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Super Bowl, the simultaneous release of “Marry Me” with Jennifer Lopez in theaters and in service, and the debut of “Bel-Air” , a dramatic retelling of the hit 90s television series “The Prince of Bel-Air,” starring Will Smith. (Season 2 is in development.)

“The retention of our service after all of this special content aired in such a concentrated period of time was well above our expectations,” said Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast, in an earnings call. last week. “We have seen a 25% increase in commitment hours year over year.”

As the pandemic shocked the theater world, Universal Pictures pioneered a variety of distribution methods for its films. There was purely theatrical film like “Fast 9: The Fast Saga,” which made $ 173 million after being released last summer when coronavirus cases were lowest. And there was “Sing 2,” which earned over $ 160 million domestically after it was released in December, before moving to premium video on demand just 17 days after its theatrical debut.

The company also experimented with simultaneous release, debuting “Halloween Kills” and the sequel to “Boss Baby” in theaters and on Peacock during the height of the pandemic. The company will do it again in two weeks with the remake of Stephen King’s horror film “Firestarter”.

“There is no one size fits all,” Ms. Langley said. “It’s really about looking at the individual movies on the one hand and then also our growth engine, Peacock, and doing what’s best at any given time, depending on what’s happening on the market. Hope this stabilizes over time as the theatrical landscape stabilizes. But until then, we have that chance. “

Like every other studio executive, Ms. Langley is involved in the complicated calculation to determine which films fit where in a world where the box office is down 45% from it was in 2019. It’s “a declining box office.” “Ms. Langley said, with the theater set to air in 2023 it is still expected to be down at least 15% from its pre-pandemic level.

He described the three films he chose to put directly on Peacock as “films we love that a decade ago would have been child’s play” to be made and released in theaters.

But now audiences have more choice about when and where to watch movies, and it can be harder to convince them that a movie is worth seeing in a cinema.

“We still want to make these films, because we believe in stories, we believe in storytellers, and we think these are great entertainment shows,” Ms. Langley said. “We have the opportunity to take advantage of our streaming platform. And we think they are events, actually, to be released in house, very specifically for the Peacock audience. “

Peacock is buying the films from Universal Pictures, a portion of the $ 3 billion it plans to spend on content in 2022, to reach $ 5 billion over the next two years.

Ms. Langley said that while 2023 would feature three films directed at Peacock, she hoped to release seven to 10 films in this manner over the next few years, films that would all be developed and produced by the same creative team at Universal that is behind the “Jurassic Park” and “Fast and Furious” franchises.

“The future of Peacock depends on having good content and our future depends on having flexibility in our distribution models,” said Ms. Langley. “So our agendas are ultimately aligned. So, yes, there is a debate about a particular stock or something they might want that we can’t deliver or vice versa, but that’s the stuff of working within a big company. “

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