By: Tyrone Barrozo, Contributing Writer
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Rewind the clock to the start of 2020 and gaze upon what would’ve been displayed across the silver screen: the new James Bond film would be out in April, Marvel’s “Black Widow” in May ushering a new era of superhero films and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” would be out in July. However, none of that happened. Here comes the release date delays, the uncertainties about the long-reigning recession-proof entertainment industry, and the eventual but necessary restrictions placed on movie theaters. And it’s a shame too because based on the film market in 2019, the first year of the new decade looked promising enough for some to declare “There’s no way one can say that theatrical is dead.”
Cut to March 13-15 of that year with North American box offices seeing its lowest box office weekend since 1998, only ranking in a little more than $55 million USD, according to a Deadline article. This was a fraction of China’s cumulative loss of $2 billion USD since closing more than 70,000 theaters back in January.
It was quite a time to be someone working within the film industry. Also keep in mind that it took a global plague of biblical proportions to get the suits in Hollywood and the theater owners that they conduct business with to ease up on their old practices, lest they tread down an even more bearish path. According to Variety, before 2020, new films had to be played exclusively at an AMC, a Cinemark or your local indie cinema for 90 days before it could be released for home entertainment purposes.
For obvious reasons, that sort of practice was quickly amended. Granted, it was already a long and tenuous relationship between theater owners and film studios due to saving money on marketing costs by streamlining the business.
Of course, the name-brand theater chains haven’t gone down in this ongoing scramble, opting for private limited screenings and showing classic films in order to bring more variety to viewers (if local government permits). But those theater chains aren’t salvaging the financial situation, all of that is thanks to the rise of streaming services.
From Netflix and Chill to Hulu and “Woo-hoo,” streaming services became the digital saviors to many peoples’ quarantine boredom and isolation. Why worry about being touch-starved when “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Last Dance” are ready for binge-watching? With the ability to endlessly scroll and browse through numerous online catalogs growing stronger in customers’ hands, the theater industry was feeling an undeniable heat.
Thus came the high-profile experiments like HBO Max premiering blockbusters in theaters simultaneously with the streaming platform and Disney+ making once slated theatrical releases into digital exclusives behind a $30 price tag (before shifting to a similar model akin to the aforementioned HBO Max but worse by maintaining the additional charges).
By then, every sane person had adjusted to living in a pandemic world and theaters had to realize that they were not as strong as they were before. Why risk literally dying from a then undefendable pathogen to waste 90 minutes when that could be done easier, quicker, and cheaper at home?
It isn’t just summer popcorn flicks that have made successful transitions to streaming, notable and respected auteurs from the likes of Spike Lee to Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher seemed to be fine putting their projects out on Netflix. So what is there to worry about concerning this matter? Why should people care?
Well, amidst such an event like the COVID-19 global health emergency, people should at least care about how smaller theater chains are being affected by the matter. Even though it may seem like everyone will be ready to come out of their self-containment hovels to feel the sun’s rays embrace them long enough for two summers, it’s important to know that while stubborn rich folk took immense losses, so too did a lot of hopeful business owners and some of them are barely hanging on.
The article by Variety wrote about these changes to the movie industry and spoke with a small theater chain owner who was already in a rut during the early days of the pandemic.
“I was open for two months [in the summer],” the owner said. “My payroll was more than my gross. If my rent were due, I would already be bankrupt.”
As far as the near future goes with theaters and streaming, it seems that there’s only one way to see how all of this might end, simply stay tuned and find out.