By: Amanda Guarragi
For the past couple of years the film industry has been gradually shifting and we know where it’s heading. Streaming content has finally become a major player in the industry, whether the films are on; Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Max or Disney Plus, these major streaming platforms have acquired films from major studios, produced their own or found independent films to distribute. Streaming platforms have been silently progressing and they have changed the moviegoing experience entirely.
News broke out earlier this week that the Oscars will consider films that didn’t play in theatres as a part of the new Academy rules. However, there are guidelines as to how this would play out for Oscar season, Marc Malkin for Variety breaks it down, “To be considered, the streamed film must have already had a planned theatrical release. The film must also be made available on the Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release.” This is a welcomed change for independent films that only have a limited theatre release and head straight to streaming.
That wasn’t the only discourse the made headlines though. It was a huge week for the film industry as Trolls World Tour released it’s PVOD earnings, it took in $100 million in premium DVD rentals in its first three weeks of play in North America. The film apparently made more on VOD than the first instalment, which had a five month run in theatres. This raised a lot of eyebrows because of the profit it made in one month on VOD vs a 5 month run in theatres. CEO of NBCUniversal, Jeff Shell made this statement following the success of the film, “The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD. As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” The reason why this is such a huge deal for studios is that they can create a bridge between theatrical releases and accessibility through streaming internationally.
However, the excitement of that news, was overpowered by movie theatre chains disagreeing with Universal’s decision to release their films on both formats. It first upset AMC, which is the largest theatre chain in the United States (who is also on the verge of bankruptcy) because they obviously want content to exclusively play at their theatres. They were clearly upset, they countered Shell’s statement and said that they would no longer show any Universal Studios pictures at their theatre. Not only did they decide to boycott Universal, but so did Regal, Odeon and now Cineworld in the United Kingdom. These are all major theatre chains boycotting a studio that has No Time to Die, Jurassic World: Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru and Fast & Furious 9 slated for a 2020/2021 release in theatres.
If you read the statement from Jeff Shell again, he did not say that there would be no theatrical release of the studios films. He just said, due to the success of Trolls World Tour on VOD, it would be a great business decision to do both. It’s a very simple statement that allows the rest of the studios to see how this formula could work moving forward. Warner Brothers is releasing Scoob! straight to VOD and Disney is moving Artemis Fowl to Disney Plus, are they also violating the code that AMC is apparently following? Why isn’t AMC going after them? What was so wrong in what Jeff Shell said?
I have been saying that we need to bridge theatrical and streaming together because it’s the future. The reason why people aren’t going to the theatres regularly is because the prices for tickets and concessions are way too high. Sure, it’s fine if you’re one person going to watch a movie, but the issue is that families are spending over $100 for one outing to the theatre. Majority of moviegoers only watch event/franchise films and those only come out once/twice a month. What Universal plans to do, will change the face of the industry and it has been a long time coming.
So, are movie theatres dying? The answer is no. The moviegoing experience will never die and it’s because people enjoy going out. Movie theatres will always be apart of the Entertainment experience. Whether it’s a date, a girls night, family movie night, alone time to catch that indie no one wants to watch with you or a massive event film that you want to experience in IMAX, movie theatres will never die, the studios just need to change their approach. If theatre chains don’t want to make their prices more affordable, then studios will create the accessibility to their films through VOD or streaming platforms.
This response from AMC and the rest of the theatre chains is just fear. It’s fear that the industry is changing and they feel like the entire experience will vanish. Were people scared to release talkies during the silent film era? Were people scared to switch over to Technicolour from black and white? Were people scared to film with IMAX cameras or in 3D? Were people scared to switch from film to digital? Were people scared to release their film on Netflix? The answer is yes, but look at how much the industry has accomplished. If the pioneers of cinema didn’t push the boundary, we wouldn’t have what we have now.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to what movie theatres are going to go through during this period of time. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, there is no date as to when this will be over and movie theatres will be open. It could take as long as a year to come up with a vaccine and the most important thing is to keep everyone safe. Opening theatres prematurely because you want to make money is a very inconsiderate thing to do. If studios can give people new content as a form of escapism from their reality, I think it would help so many people because then they have a little something to look forward to.