The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on all aspects of our daily life. That includes going to the cinema. Many big upcoming films have had to postpone their theatrical release or have gone straight to on demand or are on streaming services like Disney Plus. And this has raised the question of whether studios will change their distribution strategies to allow for films to be released in theatres and on demand simultaneously. Now some cinema chains have utterly opposed any long-term changes to the distribution even refusing to show films from certain studios if that studio is pursuing a simultaneous theatrical and on demand release. But as with many, many other aspects of life, the industry may be forced to change permanently and in very big, very fundamental ways.
Cinemas will now be able to reopen, but the same social distancing measures that are in place in all other public spaces, shops etc. will be in force. That by necessity will mean that attendances will decrease even for major releases, and there are some major releases that have already been delayed. The next Bond film, No Time to Die has already had its release date pushed back twice, Disney’s live action version of Mulan has postponed mutliple times as well as Marvel’s Black Widow. Schedules are also having to be juggled about and changed. Some films are able to get their filming back underway as their various shooting locations begin to lift their lockdowns. England has made nearly 60 countries exempt from quarantine restrictions, meaning that film crews and sporting teams etc can come into the country and get to work without having to isolate themselves for 14 days.
Now I’m all for streaming services. I think they’re great. To have as many films as they have available to watch without having to go out and buy physical copies and then have to store them somewhere in the house is a great thing. And if you never made the time to go and see that one film you can catch up on it with streaming services. What’s more, these platforms are becoming so big in the industry that they are producing their own content and some of it is really excellent. They are drawing big stars to their platforms; not just actors but directors and producers as well and are attempting some projects that some would not have considered possible before.
But on the other hand, I have always enjoyed the experience of going to the cinema. Getting there a little early, picking up the tickets, grabbing some food and a drink, deciding what to put in your pick ‘n’ mix cup. Watching the ads and trailers. I really enjoy the whole experience and I think most of the public does as well. And some films are just meant to be seen on the big screen with the huge sound system. Films like Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odessey or any of the Star Wars films. The experience can be completely transformative from a film that you thought was fine to something that can be truly brilliant. I think going to watch films at a cinema may not be as cost effective taking out a subscription to a streaming service or whatever, but the experience of going to the cinema is one to be treasured and protected. Some films I have seen at a cinema and then at home and the effect was just not quite the same. I wouldn’t mind if film studios decided to release films to cinemas and on demand simultaneously, sometimes people aren’t in a position to go to the cinema regularly but still want to keep up with new releases. That is more than fair enough, and for some films may even be a more sound strategy than a purely theatrical release. Other films, it may make sense to follow a more traditional strategy of a purely theatrical release and then making it available at home.
This will have to be seriously considered by film studios going forward, as will many aspects of the entertainment industry. I think we’ll see decisions made on an individual basis. If the film is guarenteed to draw audiences into cinemas, then the studio can go with the more traditional release strategy. We’ve also seen some recently made films like Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman made in collaboration with Netflix, given a limited theatrical release and then quickly move onto the streaming platform. So we may see even more of the streaming services moving into actual project production themselves to control how they then release it. It may also give the platforms and production companies more of an ability to get the funding for a project and to then make it the way they want, if they are able to rely on monthly subscription fees to help cover the costs of the production, rather than being turned away by a traditional film studio who worry it may not perform well at the box office, and they would then lose their investment.
Either way, I would want to see the experience of the cinema preserved for future generations to enjoy.