Bill & Ted Face the Music has already shuffled its release date because of the ongoing theater closures in North America, but when the teaser came out earlier this summer, I mentioned this movie could shift to a digital release, since it is relatively low-budget. Well, guess what? Bill & Ted Face the Music will now open on September 1 with a day-and-date release, putting it in whatever theaters are open and making it available through premium video on demand (PVOD). Leave it to Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan to blaze the trail for other studio movies to start making realistic adjustments given that theaters in the US aren’t opening any time soon.
“PVOD” is a term we’ve been talking about a lot this summer, but what is it? It is really just digital at-home rental with one big twist: “premium” means the movies are first-run. Despite the technology for home digital rental being nearly twenty years old, studios have long been wary of PVOD releases because theaters held a 90 day exclusivity window on new movies, and no studio wanted to be the first to break that agreement and fundamentally alter the movie-going experience. But then the pandemic came, and theaters closed, and studios were left holding the bag on billions of dollars of assets. PVOD, suddenly, looked possible. Universal was the first to do it, sending Trolls World Tour straight to TVs and earning the ire of theater owners in the process. Warner Brothers followed suit with Scoob!, though no one seemed particularly upset by that point. Now, United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna Pictures, is going the PVOD route with Bill & Ted, and no one even blinked.
One thing to keep in mind with PVOD, though, is that so far it really only works for lower-budgeted movies. Trolls is “cheap” for an animated movie, with a budget around $100 million, and it might actually be making money for Universal on PVOD, since studios keep more money with a digital release (theatrically, studios get about 50% of the box office, but on PVOD, they get around 80%). Bill & Ted was made for under $30 million, so it could do REALLY well on PVOD, especially with a dearth of new movies this summer combined with its status as a beloved cult classic franchise. Honestly? Bill & Ted will probably do better on PVOD than it would in theaters, because it is exactly the kind of movie people feel they can wait for at home (outside of John Wick, Keanu doesn’t drive audiences to theaters).
In the long run, I don’t think PVOD will become standard for all movie releases. The 90 day theatrical window is done, though, as with each new PVOD release, studios are getting more data about how much money is really in that well, and how best to capture it. When theaters do re-open, we will probably see much more flexibility with movie releases, with movies that bomb going to PVOD quickly, while movies that perform well lingering in theaters longer. And to date, there is nothing to suggest that big-budget movies, like Tenet and Black Widow, can make enough on PVOD to justify their existence, so don’t expect to see blockbusters come straight to your TV any time soon. Those will be the absolute last holdouts of an exclusive theatrical release.
For now, PVOD means we won’t have to wait for Bill & Ted, which is good news, because the new trailer is out and it is EXCELLENT. Bill and Ted haven’t lost any of their good-natured doofiness, indeed, it looks like they’ve passed that on to their daughters. And Death is back! Playing hopscotch alone and CHEATING, of course. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is underappreciated—any movie that casts William Sadler as Death knows what’s up. In a summer with few movies and even less good news, we could really use Bill and Ted’s brand of cheerful dumbassery. This was one of my most anticipated movies of the summer, and I’m glad we don’t have to wait another year for it. Party on, dudes!