Cinemas May Become Relics of Film in the Post-Coronavirus World

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By Karim Aziz Oghly

The year is 1896, you are attending the screening of “L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat,” or “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station,” in Paris, France. Auguste Lumière and Louis Lumière present their film and watch audiences attempt to flee in fear as the train on the screen approaches them. This is a thing of the past. As COVID-19 drives more people into their homes and forces the film industry to buckle due to cinema closures, the age of the theater may be over sooner rather than later. 

Streaming services have been exponentially increasing in popularity, especially at this time due to coronavirus lockdowns. Around the world, cinemas are closed to try to “flatten the curve.” Along with that, film and television productions have been halted with many release dates being pushed as far as two whole years. 

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Many entertainment giants are entering the streaming scene. Walt Disney Studios recently launched its endeavor with Disney+, which has already amassed over 50 million users in under five months. Apple has even joined the battle for the top streaming service. Home Box Office, The National Broadcasting Company, as well as AT&T are among those setting up to release their own platforms. Netflix has, and is, currently still dominating the streaming industry with over 182 million subscribers worldwide. Due to coronavirus, the company saw an almost 16 million increase in subscribers in the first quarter of 2020. 

Online video platforms already create content that never sees the light of a cinema projector. Yet, ‘the big five’ production companies, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Brothers, Sony, Universal Pictures, and Paramount Pictures, seem to still be adamant about sticking to traditional theaters. Needless to say, cinemas contribute a large sum of money to the industry. According to the Motion Picture Association of America’s Theatrical Market Statistics Report for 2019, the global box office market for all films released around the world reached about $42 billion. On the other hand, the global home and mobile entertainment market amassed almost $59 billion. According to the MPAA, there are almost 864 million subscriptions to online video services as of 2019. 

As more and more streaming services launch and become available worldwide, the question of whether leaving one’s home to go to a theater is still worth it, especially with a pandemic looming. Streaming platforms have proven their worth of being able to support the industry. Services such as Orbit Showtime Network’s Wavo, in the United Arab Emirates, even allows for series to air at the same time as they do on televisions in the United States. WB, due to COVID-19 theater closures, opted for an early video-on-demand release of “Scoob!” rather than further postponing its theatrical release. WB also decided to release “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” onto VOD services early. Disney even considered releasing “Black Widow,” a likely very lucrative Marvel film, directly to Disney+ but opted not to. However, recent developments have suggested that Disney will be releasing another, long-awaited, property to VOD services rather than having it see a theatrical release. Universal Studios has decided to release more feature films onto VOD and streaming services in the future. The decision was made after “Trolls World Tour” had a successful online debut. But, that resulted in American Multi-Cinema Theatres, one of the world’s largest cinema chains, banning Universal Studios to deter other studios from following in its footsteps. 

Yet, production companies do appear to see the value of streaming and VOD. Understanding that money can still be made without cinemas through utilizing the services in the same way theaters are already used is the important factor here. Studios can charge streaming services for distribution rights to their films much like they would cinemas. Thus, such an implementation, with potentially increased prices, can fill the void that theaters will leave behind. After all, one of the most destructive blunders a brand can make is not accounting for and being too arrogant to change. What worked today, may not work tomorrow. However, the homogeneous and, soon-to-be, oversaturated online video market will likely leave some studios lagging as audiences pick their favorites. Because, admittedly, paying an average of $10 a month for a single streaming service tends to add up to a hefty sum when you’re subscribed to several. 

As a film aficionado myself, going to a cinema is something I tend to cherish when it’s not filled with screaming children and people on their phones. So, it pains me to say that such an experience, as exasperating as it sometimes is, may soon be part of a bygone era of film. What once was a way of bringing friends together may be its downfall in the post-corona world as social distancing becomes a norm. So, anticipate watching a satirical remake of “Love in the Time of Cholera,” titled “Love in the Time of Corona,” on your preferred streaming service rather than at your local cinema chain.