Movie distribution forever changed at the start of 2021. Besides many theater chains being fully or partially shut down, Warner Brothers announced that all of their movies in 2021 will be released on HBO Max at the same time as theaters, which led to some vocal uproar of those who highly value the theater experience. It also came out that Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson sued Disney (and recently settled the lawsuit) for monetary damages for releasing the 2021 film on their Disney+ service without compensating for the lost wages of the theater release.
It’s been a tumultuous (almost) two years for the film industry, which was already struggling with lower box office numbers and public interest. But now with all of the additional changes from the COVID-19 pandemic, where do movies go from here?
Clearly streaming is here to stay…
Between Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, and Disney+, there is enough original content out there to last a lifetime. Add content that they own the rights to, and you can watch enough movies/series for four lifetimes. Netflix is investing $5.21 billion into their original content for just 2021 alone. I won’t dive into the full numbers for each service, but here’s an interesting CNBC article that breaks it down.
Even when you ignore the content itself, the popularity and accessibility that streaming services offer makes their presence one to stay. While I love the experience of the theater, it’s nice to be able to just turn on the TV or boot up a tablet and start watching new and trending content from the comfort of my sofa or bed.
But theaters won’t be going away
The comfort and convenience of streaming services have a strong influence, but for those who love the cinema, they can’t stay away for long. Even for people that don’t see many movies in theaters, there are some releases every year that draw big crowds (if you’re a fan of superhero movies, you’ll probably be attending theatrical releases A LOT in 2022 and beyond).
Theaters adapted to these changing trends: more comfortable chairs that recline, more spacing, rewards programs, and more. While this doesn’t mean they’ve caught up to the comforts of home, because frankly that would be impossible, but they’ve done a good job to make movies “events.” Even now my parents ask me if we can go to the theater with the “nice seats.”
And this is more specific to movie buffs like myself, but I don’t want to see theaters die. There is something so special about having a big thing of popcorn with a big crowd (pre-pandemic, of course) and getting into a movie as if it was a live sporting event.
The bright side is that based on the performance of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, movie theaters will still be a viable source of revenue for movie studios.
Streaming is king, but…
The appeal of streaming was that it consolidated multiple pieces of content into one place for one low price. As more companies start their own streaming service, it feels like these companies have learned nothing from the continual slow death of cable. Consumers are smart and the general public is already picking up which streaming services are worth it, and which aren’t.
If you’re the CEO of a streaming service, hopefully, this isn’t coming as a surprise to you. Consumers are already picking up on ways to not have to spend $70+ on all of the streaming services because for many, the initial reason to turn to streaming was to avoid a $70+ cable bill covering plenty of channels they didn’t even watch in the first place.
There have also been reports that streaming services are looking at ways to reduce password-sharing, but if talking with my friends is any indication, this will yet give another reason for consumers to turn to a competing service.
Even with Dune coming out in the US at the end of October, or Spider-Man: No Way Home releasing in December, movie studios are still monitoring the financial impacts of the impact as we finish up year 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic. While I personally think that theaters will still be around and streaming services will continue to strengthen their original content, the only way we’ll find out for sure is by seeing how it plays out.