Will the cinema industry ever recover after COVID-19 pandemic or will they disappear like Blockbuster did for movie rentals? Thats the big question grappling Hollywood and the film & cinema industry.
Here's my experience going back after everything is open from COVID-19 lockdown: I went to a 4DX movie in one cinema and a normal movie in another. Everything was clean at Village Cinemas Australia & Reading Cinemas so I was impressed and felt safe and of course with my mask on. But each time I went, there was only me and 2-3 other people. So I cannot wonder whether the industry will ever recover. Mind you, here in Melbourne (Australia) the heavy COVID-19 Lockdown restrictions ended months ago and and it's the middle of summer. But very few are in the cinemas.
With TV screens getting bigger and cheaper with fancier features I am wondering whether the home cinema is getting more exciting than the one down the street. And movie releases coming direct to rental streaming at $30 AUD approximately, so it has me imagining whether things will return to normal... ever. And I'm amazed how The Walt Disney Company had an amazing foresight to get Disney+ streaming service operational just in time for the pandemic. But Sadly we don't have HULU here in Australia. And some have to resort to VPN to get better stuff in Netflix.
I also wonder whether the stupid regional content restrictions still work in post COVID-19 world which is why people use VPN services to see what they want. Do those regional content restrictions need to go and the "players" who make decisions like Village Roadshow (in Australia) need to work more with local streaming services? Whether they like it or not - the streaming services are the new digital cinemas. So we have to go back to the question: Why do people go to the cinema?
Why did people go to the Cinema in the 1920's?
After World War 1, by the early 1920's a lot of American towns had a cinema. Most people in America went to the cinema at least once a week. People didn't know the names of their local government officials but they knew the names of the lead actors and actresses in movies. So the industry exploded and went onto become big success.
Quoting from Wikipedia: "The Ohio Theatre is a performing arts center on Capitol Square in Downtown Columbus, Ohio. Known as the "Official Theatre of the State of Ohio", the historic 1928 movie palace was saved from demolition in 1969 and completely restored. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 as one of the nation's finest surviving grand theaters". Checkout it's amazing interior!
Movies became a family thing, or where a couple would go to make out, or kids went to visit another world or if someone wanted to escape the memories of a World War or societal troubles of the day. Movies became the great equaliser bringing the poor family and the rich family all together to enjoy something communally as equals (well except the nasty race segregations - obviously that changed decades later).
Young people started copying what they watched and dreamed of far-away places just like you would when reading a novel but richer in experience. People felt as if they because the lead character and the dark cinema helped in that experience and of course came enhancements later like 3D experience and screen sizes. Just like the Theatres or Arenas of the ancient world, the cinemas provided an outlet and calmed the masses and provided an escapist experience that brought joy, laughter, fright and every other emotion you could think into a 1-2 hour slot in the evening. And remember then TV was not around yet. And then came TV and the internet and yet Cinemas survived and enhanced the movie goes experience every time. So why is it different this time? Let's explore that question further and see what the future may hold for the industry.
What is the industry grappling with now?
According to Quartz magazine article here are 5 issues cinemas and the film industry is grappling with post COVID-19:
1️⃣ Even before Covid-19, the movie theater industry was changing.
2️⃣ With Hollywood trying to figure out what a “streaming movie” is,
3️⃣ the pivot to online will completely change the in-person movie experience.
4️⃣ The industry is looking to Asia to help map out its future,
5️⃣ while the survival of independent cinema hinges in part on the survival of small cinemas. So based on that I will try and workout what the future will hold. And remember we were without cinemas for many months. Science shows that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. So has society permanently and irreversibly changed their habits in attending movie theatres? Let's explore possible scenarios.
What will the future hold for cinemas?
Here is my visions of what will happen post COVID-19 with cinemas whether we like it or not.
Vision 1 - The Worst Outcome for cinemas
Large cinemas will eventually close.
Small local cinemas (single or multiple rooms but small amount of seating) will remain like the good old days but eventually they will start to fade as Blockbuster did for rentals.
Cinemas will become a novelty.
Drive-in cinemas get a come back. A blast from the past. Example is the popup drive-in cinema in MCEC in Melbourne Australia during January.
We start to see novel ways of reducing close contact like bubble seats or pods where people sit in with their own climate control (but maybe that's far fetched?)
Vision 2 - Back to normal - sort of
COVID-19 Vaccine is distributed worldwide and begins to be treated as a seasonal flu (which it is but more severe). There is seasonal mutations just like the flu but people are generally more cautious from now on like the older population worried about catching it.
Cinema attendance numbers are greatly reduced because people get used to getting their film releases on demand as a paid event at $30. Cinemas have empty seats and they start bleeding money in every direction.
Smaller cinemas close and companies merge to survive. Reduce cinema room sizes and use smaller facilities.
Film industry goes into a hybrid model with digital and cinema screenings.
What's the solution?
I think if the cinemas want to survive they are going to have to offer digital screens on their websites. They need to start to treat their websites as "digital cinemas" as well.
Here is how that could work:
I go on the cinema website
I book in a screening at 6pm on Saturday
I book in a snacks and drinks delivery which arrives 30 minutes before screening with popcorn and stuff and it arrives by Uber Eats or Menulog
I watch it with those in my household and I can only login to one screen.
The cinemas offer a watch party experience but of course they require each household to buy a digital ticket. If some go to the physical cinema, to drive-in cinema and watch it in "digital" cinema they can join a watch party and chat together in a shared experience.
Anyway, this is my take on this. Leave some comments below if you have more ideas.
Hopefully just like the movies are creative so will the industry that brings an experience we have enjoyed for over a hundred years continue being creative in delivering entertainment in some way. I really do hope the industry returns to normal and we enjoy the usual experience. But with COVID-19 mutations will see no end in sight and climate change will keep bringing changes to how we live, have fun and do things for decades to come.
Maybe like in Star Trek the Next Generation & Star Trek Voyager the cinemas will be a novelty and we shift into a holodeck or experience parks where we experience the move as actors on the movie set? Or maybe we go back to theatre like in Shakespeare's time?
22/06/2021 Update - A few months ago I went to the newly renovated Lunar Drive-In Cinema in Melbourne, Australia (they renovated last year and its out of this world) - and it was amazing. Some things to workout but overall it was amazing. I also have been renting the early release movies on streaming sites - all major players like Amazon Prime, Netflix and others are gobbling up movies not released in Cinemas and people are flocking to those services. Online rental stream sites are also releasing early release screenings as $30 AUD once off rental and its reasonable and seems to be very popular. Some movies are being held for an imaginary improvement to COVID-19 that may not come for some time - what will they do? Who has been to traditional cinemas in the last 6 months? Is the film industry going to join with streaming sites and from now on early release all movies or will they come up with something new?
Great Hera! The future of cinema is on Wonder Woman's shoulders? (Sydney Morning Herald)
125 years after cinema was born: Does it have a future? (Deutsche Weller)
Tom Hanks Ponders Cinema’s Future (Dark Horizons)
Issue of the day: Wonder Woman 1984 and the future of cinema (Herald Scotland)
Streaming wars: how threatening are they really to the film industry? (Conversation UK)
CES2021: Forget foldable TVs. Transparent screens are the cool new tech trend (CNN Business)
Ohio Theatre (Colombus, Ohio) (Wikipedia)