The future of VOD & movie theaters

Amidst the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, companies are rummaging around on how to save themselves. Restaurants are turning against dine-in, necessities are becoming more and more limited during the so-called toilet paper epidemic, and I learned just a few days ago that GameStop is somehow still in business. 

Needless to say, whether we like it or not, we are living in an event that’ll go into the medical books. As I sit here in isolation and wonder what the world will be like in the coming months, I’m also going through a movie theater withdrawal.

I remember my most recent movie theater experience being the charming but middling “Onward,” as I sat with rows of children as a solo adult man. I miss that feeling of watching a movie with other moviegoers, there to have a good time and hopefully get something out of the movie experience. With “Mulan,” “No Time to Die,” “Black Widow,” and “New Mutants” all joining the fray of being indefinitely delayed during the crisis, questions remain. When will this whole ordeal will blow over? When will we get a new theatrical release? Will “Birds of Prey” win Best Picture at the Oscars by default?

As movie theaters close and movie studios postpone filming, Universal Pictures hunkered down and seems to have a solution. With the global box office currently incapacitated by COVID-19 fears, Universal believes the next step would be to move new releases to home to be watched through internet and live-streaming.

“Given the rapidly evolving and unprecedented changes to consumers’ daily lives during this difficult time, the company felt that now was the right time to provide this option in the home as well as in theaters,” said NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell in an official statement. “We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”

\New theater releases like “Onward,” “The Hunt,” “Invisible Man,” and “Bloodshot” have all been released for digital shortly after their theatrical release, while “Birds of Prey,” “Rise of Skywalker,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” bumped their digital releases ahead of time. Dreamworks Animation’s “Trolls: World Tour” is releasing under its initial April 10 release date, but will premiere on digital instead. 

But what does this mean for the future of movie theaters? Yes, this is seemingly only a temporary ordeal until the virus blows over, and studios will still make money and the world will still be able to watch new releases in the safety of their own home. But we live in a world of capitalism, where people vote with their wallets. In an increasingly digital age, will the movie theater be sufficient?

The answer (I pray) is yes. But consider the history of digital platforms. Netflix had its early start in 1997 as a home video sale and rental delivery service. As of that time, video rental store Blockbuster was still a very respectable business with thousands of stores across the US. Even when Netflix was growing by 2003, Blockbuster still underestimated them. It wasn’t until 2004 when Blockbuster eventually began their own video service, promising unlimited rentals for $19.99 a month. In 2007, Netflix began their streaming service, hurting Blockbuster even more. In 2010, Blockbuster finally declared bankruptcy.

What’s to learn here? Though Netflix may not be the sole cause of Blockbuster’s demise (you have mismanagement and underestimation to thank), it’s the ongoing rise of digital services that could end up affecting the way we live.

But that’s not to say this whole ordeal will be bad. As theater ticket prices go higher (and so do their concession prices), digital sales could be seen as a much cheaper alternative than driving twenty minutes and paying nearly a hundred dollars to go see Alec Baldwin as a baby. Provided everyone has a stable internet, seeing new releases could be easier than ever. 

But there is certainly something special about the theater experience, to witness this movie with other people. God knows I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t driven two hours to go see “The Lighthouse.” There are movies you must experience on the big screen, and I don’t want to see that feeling go away. I’m looking forward to where this will go. As we reach a new decade with already new challenges before us, we do what we do best: improvise and adapt in the face of adversity. To create new things and evolve as human history has. But we must be conscious of the cost.

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