By Helen Coster
(Reuters) - Universal Pictures, a division of Comcast Corp-owned NBCUniversal, will make its movies available at home on the same day they are released in theaters worldwide, beginning with the DreamWorks Animation film "Trolls World Tour" - which opens in the United States on April 10.
The decision, announced by NBCUniversal on Monday, is a response to changing consumer behavior as the coronavirus spreads. It upends the traditional practice of keeping a movie exclusively in theaters for what is typically a 90-day window before releasing it on other platforms.
NBCUniversal will "continue to evaluate the environment as conditions evolve," the company said in a statement, adding it will revisit the strategy when the current situation changes.
On Sunday night, the mayors of New York and Los Angeles ordered movie theaters in their respective cities to close in response to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
NBCUniversal said that by Friday, recently released films including "The Hunt," "The Invisible Man" and "Emma" will be available from sister companies Sky and Comcast and on a variety of on-demand services. The suggested price will be $19.99 in the United States for a 48-hour rental, and the equivalent price elsewhere.
"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 NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Jeff Shell in a statement.
Between this past Friday and Sunday, North American movie box office sales hit their lowest levels in over two decades, according to Comscore, as viewers stayed home and theaters capped their seating capacity to create more space between moviegoers.
(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)