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Is This the End of Movie Theatres?

The streaming era, plus a killer pandemic, may do what no prior technology could

The local movie house used to be the premier place to watch a film.

You stopped by the concession stand, mixed Buncha Crunch with overly buttered popcorn and escaped the world for a few hours. Theatres let us forget about the politics of the day, an added bonus in our divided times.

Now, the question is whether such a luxury can or will survive.

The end of movie theaters?

It’s hardly a new topic, but the theatrical model’s future has never been so uncertain.

This week, AMC secured a $100 million investment to try and stay afloat amid the indoor gathering restrictions. It remains to be seen whether this amount of funding will make much of a difference, as the company urges patrons to buy stock.

AMC is just one of the many entertainment companies who have laid off thousands of employees during the pandemic. With the official start of winter just days away, it’s not looking any better.

States are locking down, again, and restrictions are beginning to take root. Your childhood memories of going to the box office might look quite different moving forward.

Assuming they survive at all.

Clearly, Americans love movies. It was inevitable that the biggest trend in America prior to the pandemic — streaming services — would be the recipient during the pandemic.

IMax CEO on movie theater outlook amid the pandemic, streaming service competition

In 2020, subscriptions to streaming services increased by a gargantuan margin. In March, there was a reported increase of 85 percent in viewership among companies. Netflix notably gained 25.86 million new subscribers in Q1 2020 alone — an insane number.

A report by Grand View Research estimates the streaming services market will be worth upwards of $184.27 million by 2027, a growth of 20.4 percent from current standing.

As is well-known, Disney was prepared to deliver “Soul” and “Mulan” to theatrical audiences before shifting them both to Disney+. The move is already paying off for the company.

7Park Data found that a staggering 29 percent of United States Disney+ subscribers purchased the $30 “Mulan” film to date. Profits are estimated to be in the range of $261 million, not including international markets.

“Soul,” the Pixar comedy featuring Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey and Phylicia Rashad, will debut on Disney+ Christmas Day.

One can only imagine the exposure this film will achieve.

Disney and Pixar’s Soul | Official Trailer 2 | Disney+

The news got worse for movie theaters earlier this month.

Warner Bros. will be releasing its entire 2021 film lineup in both theaters and HBO Max simultaneously. This includes “Matrix 4,” “Dune” and other potential blockbusters.

Meanwhile, some of Hollywood’s biggest names are now content to debut their films on streaming platforms.

David Fincher, the auteur behind “Fight Club” and “Se7en,” signed a four-year deal with Netflix for content. According to legend Martin Scorsese (Netflix’s “The Irishman”), streaming “is an even bigger revolution than sound.”

Cinema is evolving. The whole economy is. And, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, America was already moving in this direction. The world was, too. The million dollar question is whether our beloved theatres can survive the mess — or if streaming will supplant the means through which we watch film.

As states continue to lockdown again with winter’s approach, what’s the pitch for people to go sit in a theatre with a mask that they have to adjust to slurp their sodas?

It’s a difficult one.

On paper, the theatrical model offers a superior experience. Instead of being a couch potato, viewers can enjoy new movies while connecting with friends and strangers alike.

It’s what America could miss with the death of the movie house.

We’re already losing social outlets where people can come together courtesy of the pandemic. Many colleges are closed (can you imagine being a freshman right now?) Workplace meetings happen via video software like Zoom. Restaurants are hanging on, barely, via take-out service.

All we can hope is that our box offices will once again draw young and old alike into their darkened spaces. One would be foolish to ignore the significance of the streaming revolution, though, or the trend lines in place prior to COVID-19.

Photo by Third Serving on Unsplash

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