In early March of this year, literally–almost–no individual could have predicted the nearly absolute shutdown of the American economy that would soon occur due to the international COVID-19 pandemic. Both the federal and state governments temporarily closing all types of businesses piece by piece, essentially placing the population in an emergency lockdown situation made the streets appear as nothing more than deserted roads. This was a sign that the culture of the United States would be taking a detour for the next few weeks. Unfortunately, a few weeks stretched into a few months, and with the possibility of said few months continuing on into a little over a year, movie theaters have metaphorically been placed on the economy’s endangered species list. Fears regarding the proximity between patrons, as well as the cycling of several groups throughout each day, have created a stalemate between consumers and the theater chains themselves: the former is apprehensive to enter these establishments, and the latter is anxious of opening too soon/without enough precautions in place. Regrettably, this and many other factors concerning media consumption have already sealed the cadaverous fate of cinemas. Over the next year, going to the movies will likely become as unnecessary as coughing into a friend’s mouth (just some crude humor to guarantee your attention toward the Oredigger’s first issue back on campus).
Aside from the lack of expedition from both consumers and vendors, the other major factor contributing to the downfall of movie theaters resides in the public’s newly reinvigorated attentiveness to streaming services. While early stages of the stay-at-home orders resulted in internet fame for the most recent shows available, such as Netflix’s Tiger King, HBO’s Westworld, and almost everything available on Disney+, the efforts by studios, production companies, and even media conglomerates to prevent quarterly losses also resulted in many films planned for theaters to be placed on VOD and even straight to subscription-based streaming services. Examples include Paramount’s The Lovebirds on Netflix, as well as Warner Bros.’ Scoob! and Universal Studios’ Trolls: World Tour available for order on demand, the latter of which garnered over $100 million in the first week of release. Though not all efforts have been wildly successful, the lack of reported failures to industry officials has at least proven that the foray into a totally digital medium could be viable in the near future. To prevent major losses for the year, Walt Disney Studios has even announced the relocation of the live-action remake of Mulan to Disney+ for a one-time price of thirty dollars. This action has indirectly announced the confidence of Disney to, at the very least, return their initial investment and advertising costs (approximately only 15% of Disney+ subscribers must purchase the film to cover said costs).
While streaming’s dominance in consumer media had been building over the past few years before Coronavirus was even publicly known, a nationwide quarantine urged several companies to each launch their own online services before they were even fully ready. Both HBO Max and Peacock received criticism for their unstructured user-interfaces and sparse libraries, yet they still received many customers purely because of the opportunity for viewers to stave off the potential boredom that could occur over the future months. As a result, the collective streaming services have somewhat covered all possible media that could be consumed, since they not only provide past titles but also produce original content with production values almost comparable to studio blockbusters. Even if there were concerns about the variety of original content, Netflix and Amazon Prime have proven they are more willing to invest in artistic projects from amateurs more than any major studio. This is most likely because they possess no ability to make box office profits in the first place, so the films are purely designed to satisfy niche audiences; this still makes for successful customer acquisition because of the cost-effectiveness to watch such movies, as well as word of mouth for award-winning films (Roma, Manchester by the Sea, Marriage Story, etc.). Looking at the big picture, one can see that what theaters used to provide has been successfully placed in the comfort of one’s home, so why should the public travel to a different location and pay far more for only one showing at a time?
Admittedly, there may still be hope for the future of movie outings due to the recent, cautious efforts by theater chain Regal Cinemas to boost reopening numbers. Over the coming weeks, Regal Cinemas establishments will be playing classic films for only five dollars, a price even the most broke college student can get behind with titles such as Jurassic Park, The Dark Knight, and Rocky. Although limited seating capacity has limited total possible sales, recent attempts to purchase tickets online have yielded sold-out rooms (with social distancing, of course.) This weekend, the Colorado Mills UA Theater has plenty of showings with a new focus on cleanliness and social distancing, implying that they intend on returning even under continual restrictions. Only time will actually tell whether or not theaters will return as a major source of entertainment, but, for the time being, many are better off keeping their wallet closed and staying home.