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With Theaters Closed, Universal Pictures Pivots To Streaming Rentals


With movie theaters closed because of the coronavirus, Universal Pictures is letting homebound viewers rent its newest films online - films that otherwise would have been on the big screen. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: One of the movies Universal is offering online starting Friday is from Focus Features - "Emma," a new adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 comedy. Emma Woodhouse, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is a clever matchmaker who meddles in affairs and finds her own love story.


ANYA TAYLOR-JOY: (As Emma Woodhouse) Oh - Mr. Elton.

DEL BARCO: "Emma" is a directorial debut for photographer Autumn de Wilde. She is currently in London with plans to head back to LA this week if she can.

AUTUMN DE WILDE: Obviously, it was so thrilling to know that I had a movie that was going into the theaters. I mean, that's like a dream come true. And to have the audiences experience it that way is ideal, especially because I am such a color freak - you know, color and sound design and music. You know, that's the ideal place.

DEL BARCO: De Wilde says she was already considering asking Universal to offer the movie online before the decision was made.

DE WILDE: I did intend to make an escape film, you know, a movie that you could just forget about everything for two hours. I mean, I don't think my movie's saving lives. But you know, it's really - I think anything that can cheer you up for a couple hours right now is very valuable.

DEL BARCO: On Friday, Universal Pictures will also begin streaming the movies "The Hunt" and "Invisible Man." It's the first major Hollywood studio to offer same-day theatrical and streaming debuts, a strategy that gives longer shelf life for movies after they're in movie theaters.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: I don't think this move by Universal signals a sea change in the future. But for right now, the way to get content to consumers - the best possible way is in the home.

DEL BARCO: Paul Dergarabedian is a senior media analyst for comscore.com.

DERGARABEDIAN: We may see other studios doing this. I think for movie theaters, though, they - you know, certainly they don't want to see this as a permanent solution. But it won't be because movie theaters eventually will reopen. And people will want to go to the theater. You know how badly people want to get out right now? But you know, they can't.

DEL BARCO: Whether movie theaters are open or not by April 10, Universal says it will be debuting another of its movies both online and in theaters - "Trolls World Tour."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Let's go save the world.


JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) I can't stop the - I can't stop the...

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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