By Kate Powell
With the delay of anticipated blockbusters, like Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and the newest James Bond flick, No Time to Die, the expected move from big screen to intimate home viewings has movie critics and connoisseurs wondering alike: how will theaters maintain relevance or revenue?
Following the Warner Bros. announcement that all studio movies will be released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, there was instantaneous retaliation from some of the theater industries’ biggest names. The head of AMC Theatres, Adam Aron, was reported to have said that the decision would “sacrifice a considerable portion of the [delayed movies’] profitability.” The decision is like many others made by dominant studios to shift potential blockbuster release dates to 2021, premiering in theatres and on demand. The Warner Bros. uproar begs the question on everyone’s mind: What will happen to movie theaters with new films being released on streaming services?
While the pandemic has fuelled the closure and bankruptcy of well-known department stores and small local businesses worldwide, some theatres see a light at the end of the tunnel in regards to their own survival. Cinemark Theatres, a large-scale company with hundreds of locations across the United States alone, is confident in its ability to outlast the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus. According to Eric Wold, an expert analyst in film exhibition at B. Riley Financial Inc., Cinemark should be able to improve its revenues in 2021 to $1 billion. He even estimates an increase to $1.9 billion by 2023, a significant claim considering the situation of the company and so many other theatre companies like it.
But the future of movie theaters continues to look hopeful. A December 2020 study examined the effects of South Korea’s early digital release program as a way to understand the streaming services’ effect on theaters during COVID-19. South Korea uses a different approach to film distribution as opposed to the United States. They provide Super Premium Video on Demand (SPVOC), an option which a majority of South Korean studios use to grant digital on demand access as early as three to five weeks after theatrical release. The study found that despite the decrease of time between the digital release window and the theatrical one, the impact was a trivial 0.8% decrease in overall theatrical revenue during the first eight weeks of the theatrical release. Additionally, the studios received a 12% increase in revenue during the first eight weeks after the release. With such a substantial increase in studio profits in South Korea due to a shortened theatrical release window, will someday the United States’ film industry do the same?
Still movie theaters must tackle the unprofitable difficulties of public fear in a world where wearing masks and social distancing has become practically second nature. Even with the introduction of vaccinations, people are uneasy about the effects of sitting through a feature length film in a room full of strangers. But one hopes eventually the cinematic experience of viewing a film on the ‘big screen’ will bring back the crowds. John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theater Owners, is optimistic, remarking, “theaters provide a beloved immersive, shared experience that cannot be replicated.” A statement that will feasibly hold true for moviegoers nationwide in the aftermath of this pandemic.