Streamers Offer Up Early Releases and Promotions to Woo Homebound Audiences

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Hulu’s miniseries Little Fires Everywhere was supposed to be released today, but since so many Americans are stuck at home as a result of the novel coronavirus spread, the streaming service decided to drop the show several hours early. Last night, the streaming service released the first three episodes of the Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington-led drama.

“As folks settle in to a new normal at home, we decided, why not light up Little Fires Everywhere now and give fans something new to watch a few hours early?” a source said about Hulu’s decision.

With the move, Hulu is just the latest streamer to find a way to capitalize on what may be one of the most captive viewing audiences in recent memory. Whether it’s because of self-isolation, quarantines or social distancing efforts, many Americans are stuck at home over nationwide efforts to limit the coronavirus’ spread. Streaming services of all sizes are looking to win them over by speeding up the release dates of new shows and movies, offering up extended free trials and encouraging binge-watching programming.

Over the weekend, Disney+ began offering Frozen 2 three months earlier than planned in a move that it said was intended to bring families “some fun and joy during this challenging period.” NBCUniversal’s Universal Pictures, staring down potentially massive losses in theatrical release revenue as major theater chains close, this week took the extraordinary step of making upcoming films available to rent and stream, collapsing the traditional 90-day window between a movie’s theatrical release and its digital availability.

Other film studios are also moving up the digital release of movies like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Birds of Prey, Just Mercy and The Gentleman, making them available for in-home purchases earlier than expected.

For other subscription services, the period of social distancing and self-isolation has presented an opportunity to let potential new customers try out their services for longer. AMC Networks, which owns a collection of streamers like Shudder, Acorn TV, Sundance Now and UMC, have broadly extended its services’ free trial periods. Free trials for all four services will extend from the normal 7-day period into a 30-day trial run with custom access codes that the services are promoting on social media.

“As many people face prolonged isolation and potential economic hardship in the coming weeks, we are extending our free trials from 7 days to 30 days to give consumers an entertaining escape during this difficult time,” Miguel Penella, the president of AMC Networks SVOD, said in a statement.

Those services are also looking to build its viewing community and help members. Shudder, a horror streaming service, is offering up daily programming recommendations on Twitter and has rolled out a collection of “Shut In” movies that feature characters trapped in places they don’t want to be. On Thursday, the service will hold a live watch party of the horror comedy Satanic Panic on Twitter.

“For many people, horror especially is a great outlet for stress and anxiety,” a Shudder spokesperson said about the decision. “Extending our free trial to 30 days seemed a small but easy way for us to offer a bit of an escape to a lot of people who need it now more than ever, without adding to any economic uncertainty they could be experiencing.”

Other companies are also opening the content floodgates. Rooster Teeth, a WarnerMedia-owned entertainment company, has opened up its live programming to the public after previously limiting it to subscribers. Some companies, like ViacomCBS and its streaming properties CBS All Access and Pluto TV, are rolling out PSAs to encourage people to stay safe during the ongoing pandemic.

While the move may mean some anticipated programming will come out sooner than expected, there are likely to be long-lasting effects of coronavirus on the film and television industries that will result in programming delays.

The fourth season of the acclaimed FX limited series Fargo has already been put on hold from its original April 19 premiere date because the last two episodes weren’t filmed before TV production was paused. The network—and Hulu, where FX series now stream the day after its linear airing—hopes the fourth season will premiere later this year.

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