Is this the death of movie theatres?

Universal studios released ‘Trolls World Tour’, a kids movie, last month. They didn’t do it in movie theatres as they’ve been shuttered due to the coronavirus. The studio released it straight to a $20 digital rental release; it raked in US$100 million in three weeks.  I’d say a lot of parents were thrilled to distract the housebound kids.

AMC theatres weren’t so thrilled; they were so livid they refused to ever show a Universal release again.  ‘Regal’ theatres, the second largest chain in America also said “we won’t be showing movies that fail to respect the ‘cinema release’ windows’ before going digital. It’s the ongoing war between studios and theatres only made worse by the pandemic.

Even before isolation took over our lives Netflix and other streaming services had taken a hold in the movie market just in pricing alone.  Pay $13 a month for a library of movies with a steady flow of new releases, wait a month or two and rent a ‘new’ release on ITunes for $4.99 or buy a one-off $25 ticket to head to the cinema, customers had made their choice with declining movie theatre attendance.

Industry insiders are suggesting a future for the movie theatres may be a one-stop shop ‘nighttime’ experience.  Some theatres already have a bar/restaurant as part of their product, a drink, meal and a movie.  It would mean fewer theatres and the multiplex will go the way of the dinosaur, but if survival is the key then downsizing seems likely.

The studios are still banking that moviegoers will show up for the ‘culture defining’ releases, the big budget movies, which heavily rely on mass ticket sales, for the studios to recoup the costs.  These blockbusters have all been pushed back with release dates for later in the year or 2021. Disney had postponed ‘Mulan’ and ‘Black Widow’, Universal the next ‘Fast and the Furious’ installment ‘F9’, and the next James Bond ‘No time to Die’ is pushed to November.

However, Christopher Nolan’s sci fi thriller ‘Tenet’ is still scheduled for a July 17 release date, but I’d suggest that would be next to get postponed. With ‘social distancing’ a part of our everyday existence can theatres even operate at half capacity or less when they do reopen.

What will the publics’ appetite for sitting in a confined air circulated space for two hours be?  The risk/reward dynamic will take a long time to shift back towards the theatres.

The only saving grace in all this could be that Studios will spend a lot less in making movies however they get released. It may turn back the clock in where dialogue and great story telling win the day. We can only hope.

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