By: Nate Vanaskie, Cinematographer & Guest Blogger
Many of us, like myself, have turned to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu for entertainment during these strange times. With thousands and thousands of hours of content on these platforms, I sometimes spend more time searching for a movie to watch rather than actually watching something. Even with all of the content already on Netflix, they continue to produce and distribute new content, it seems like on a weekly basis. Everytime I log on I see a new Netflix original series or movie being promoted. Netflix isn’t the only one making their own content, in fact, all of the major streaming platforms are now making and distributing original films and series.
As COVID-19 continues to impact the film industry and movie theater business, streaming services may actually come out ahead. With movie theaters closed, new releases are being delayed and postponed, however this has no effect on streaming platforms as they already have been releasing new content online. In fact, Universal took note from the streaming platforms and announced that it will stream new releases the same day as their global theatrical release. Instead of delaying or canceling the premieres of their films, they are just releasing them to the public to be viewed at home during this time of quarantine.
Earlier this month Universal decided to break the theatrical window and premiere Trolls World Tour on VOD. Even with the normally steep rental price of $20 for a 48-hour rental, Trolls World Tour topped the iTunes rental chart and Universal has claimed that it has scored the biggest digital debut of all time. Universal is hoping the test will help answer the question of how much consumers are willing to pay to watch a high-profile new release in their homes. If you think about it, $20 is still a really good deal for a family of four to see a new movie with average theater ticket prices being closer to $60 for them.
The locally-owned, art house cinema I frequently visited while living in Ithaca, NY, Cinemapolis, announced that they will be doing a “virtual cinema”. They are offering new films every week to be rented and viewed in the comfort of your own home. As a theater that relies on memberships more so than individual ticket sales as its main source of income, they are at the most risk during the closures. While the prices for the virtual cinema are determined by the studios, a small portion of the proceeds will go to support the theater during this time.
Will this become the new normal once social distancing is over? Personally, I don’t think it will. Despite the decreasing average attendance in recent years movie theaters will still be relevant and people will continue to attend. New releases will still have packed theaters on premiere night. You just can’t replicate the experience of seeing a movie on the big screen, at home. I do believe that art house cinemas and indie films will feel the impact the greatest. Studios may begin to release their less popular and smaller indie films as a direct to stream option as they don’t have as much box office potential as say a superhero blockbuster.
Every filmmaker’s dream is to have their film released in a theater and be viewed by an audience. Movies are made to be viewed in a theater filled with people, it’s part of the magic of movies. They unite us. They bring us together. They invite us into a new world and let you escape. To rob a filmmaker of that experience would be crushing. More often than not these smaller, indie films are original stories that introduce us to new perspectives and ideas, rather than the franchise blockbusters that dominate the screens. As seen in recent history with Moonlight (2017) and Parasite (2019) winning the top prize at the Oscars, these films have the potential to be critically successful.
The smaller studios, such as A24 and Neon, who produced the two aforementioned films respectively, will suffer more so than the major studios who are better able to adapt to the currently changing landscape. While studios spend millions of dollars making and marketing blockbusters, streaming services focus on creating a whole content ecosystem that they can charge subscribers monthly fees to access. This could possibly be the direction some studios may be heading after all of this is over, based on the success of Netflix and Disney+.
While all of this availability to view at home is convenient and a great substitute for now, it will never replace the theater experience. I go to the movie theaters to escape from everything and to see new films. It’s a place I can go to get away, to go to a different universe. I will be right there, back at the movie theaters as soon as they open again, whenever that may be.
Nate is a member of the Inspire Careers Student Professional Launch Program™, a 2019 graduate of Ithaca College and is seeking a job in cinematography.