Movie theaters might become a thing of the past in a post-Coronavirus world. As people are forced into quarantine and told to stay away from social gatherings such as movie theaters, streaming has become the next way to view big screen movies. Movies that were recently released such as “The Hunt” and “Bloodshot” and even Disney’s animated “Onward” are already available to stream at home via VOD.
Now Marvel Studios is contemplating releasing the Scarlett Johansson starring “Black Widow” film via Disney+. This in turn prompted Warner Bros. to wonder if they should release “Wonder Woman 1984” via VOD as well. By the time this is all said and done, will there be any films left to release on the big screen this Summer?
VOD and streaming has become very popular thanks to platforms such as Netflix over the past decade. It’s way more affordable to buy a pizza and drinks for a family of 4 than to go to the movies and spend pretty much 100 dollars just for candy, popcorn, and deluxe seating. Maybe movie theaters just priced themselves out of the market. Or the cost of living has risen so drastically that families now pick and choose which movies to spend money on at the big screen. Either way, movie theaters haven’t had the same kind of draw and being indefinitely shut down to a virus really does not help their cause.
The National Association of Theater Owners or NATO (but not that NATO), a trade group whose member chains own more than 30,000 screens in the U.S., is asking the federal government for immediate relief measures: loan guarantees to help with liquidity; tax benefits so that chains can still pay employees; and “tax measures that will allow theaters to recoup losses when the industry is back up and running.” NATO also set aside $1 million from its reserves to aid movie theater employees.
And the trade group is calling out reports that the Trump administration is considering bailouts for the airlines. NATO’s president John Fithian told the New York Times, “We would ask that they also consider the movie theater industry, an important part of the cultural fabric for our country.”
Even before the theaters all shut down, moviegoers had decided en masse to stop going amid coronavirus concerns.
In each of the four U.S. cities with the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks (Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York), foot traffic to movie theaters was down about 30% from Feb. 19 through March 13, according to location data from Foursquare. Foot traffic to movie theaters nationally was down 24% on average in that time.
Last weekend (March 13 to March 15) was the worst weekend for movie ticket sales since 2000, according to Comscore. (There is an interesting silver lining: amid coronavirus, the country’s 300 drive-in theaters are seeing a big bump.)
Theater closures also spell obvious bad news for the movie studios. Disney delayed the March 27 release of its live-action “Mulan” and the May 1 release of Marvel’s “Black Widow.” MGM delayed the worldwide release of the new James Bond movie, “No Time To Die,” from April to November. Sony delayed the release of “Peter Rabbit 2” from April to August. Universal delayed the release of the ninth “Fast and Furious” movie an entire year, from May 2020 to April 2021. The Cannes Film Festival is postponed from May until the end of June, and even that timeline may be optimistic.
At least many of the studios have streaming services (like Disney+) that they can promote at this time, and to which they can push some content. As NATO noted in its press release asking for a bailout, physical movie theaters are “uniquely vulnerable in the present crisis.”
Personally, I love the movie going experience. It has produced a ton of memories for me and my family throughout my life. But I am not the youth voice anymore. I am in my 30s and live in a generation of streaming and viral videos. Maybe movie theaters have just become a product of a bygone generation, like arcades. Online gaming killed arcades. Maybe streaming has finally gained enough followers to kill movie theaters as well.