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Universal to offer home movie rentals alongside new cinema releases

Universal Pictures is taking the unprecedented step of enabling movie fans to rent films at home while they’re still playing in theatres.

In a break from long-standing tradition, the studio will digitally release current movies for short-term 48-hour rentals costing $19.99 in the United States, and beyond.

The change of heart comes, of course, due to the threat of the coronavirus, with the major cinema chains limiting capacity or being forced to close by the authorities to minimise the rapid spread of the disease.

The shift in policy comes into effect this Friday. Brand new movies like The Invisible Man, The Hunt, and Emma (pictured) will be the first to be affected by the new policy, which represents a shift change from the current convention of 90-day exclusivity for the movie theatres.

Given more people are staying at home and practising social distancing, the decision gives the studio a chance to recoup some of the money they may have lost through reduced attendance. It’s unclear whether other studios will follow suit, but it seems likely given Universal Pictures has broken rank in news first reported by Deadline.

“Universal Pictures has a broad and diverse range of movies with 2020 being no exception. Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable,” said Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal.

“We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theatres where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”

It’s unclear what the UK pricing will be at the current time, and releases will depend very much on the planned international schedules for those particular movies.

However, it doesn’t seem like the cinemas will remain open for much longer, given the government’s most recent advice; to avoid attending any events in public spaces.

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