How COVID-19 could kill cinema

I recently heard that YouTube has been recently demonetising any videos that make mention of COVID-19 and the current pandemic sweeping the world. At first I just chocked it up to one more strange choice by YouTube to put the squeeze on their users, but then I thought about the issue a little more and it started to make sense.

The last thing you want during this whole crisis are sensationalist creators making a bunch of click bait misinformation that could whip people up into more of a panic than they already are. So I’m going to ignore the sense of the conclusions I made earlier and make a sensationalist claim about the long terms affects of the virus on the future of the entertainment industry.

The actual genesis of this post originated from talking to a friend of mine who is a big time cinema fan. Far more than I am, having an annual pass and seeing every new movie that comes out multiple times. He even has stock in the chain he uses the most. This guy is suffering from this ongoing self isolation more than most in this regard, not being able to visit the cinema multiple times a week like he normally would.

On top of that, he tells me that the stock value for his cinema is plummeting. So much so that them going out of business is a very possible reality.

How COVID-19 could kill cinema

It’s not just cinemas though. This has been something of a hot topic at work, where people around me and above me are talking about the smaller, and larger businesses that could end up not existing anymore when we eventually come out of this and return to some semblance of normalcy. Just a few weeks ago, British clothing chain Oasis went into administration.

With many more businesses to follow, but if places like retailers are in danger, what of the businesses that have alternatives already available in most people’s own homes? Movies, more so than a lot of other businesses seem very expendable. So, what do the studios in Hollywood do to respond to this?

Already this year, it appears that a good chunk of the summer movie season has been postponed. Different studios have made different choices in response to the pandemic, some delaying their movies little by little and seeing how things pan out, others pushing them back until next summer and giving up on 2020 entirely.

Others still have decided to go ahead and just skip the middle man, delivering their movies to the consumer directly. The first movie I heard about doing this was Troll: World Tour. I know, it’s not exactly a huge blockbuster. But after a very limited release, Universal decided to put the movie out for one day streaming rental on streaming services across America and the U.K. And SCOOB! has done the same following that.

How COVID-19 could kill cinema

It’s something I’d imagine movie studios have been thinking about for a long time. Some people simply don’t want to go to the cinema in ideal circumstances, and the possibility of simply making the movie available to people within their homes day and date with cinema releases has been something thought about, but nobody was ever brave enough to try.

Left with little alternative and bad timing, Universal went and did it. Now, many movie commentators raise their eyebrows expectantly at other distributors, especially those who already have their own, exclusive streaming service ready to go.

It’s Disney, I’m talking about Disney.

With all the properties they’ve acquired, from Marvel, to Star Wars to everything under Fox’s umbrella, coupled with Disney+ subscriptions exploding again with the service recently coming to the U.K. the question has to be asked, why not put the movies slated for summer 2020 out on this service. For free or at an extra charge?

How COVID-19 could kill cinema

They’ve already pushed Black Widow back from May to November, bumping back all of their planned movies by a slot over the coming years. But eyes are now eyes are on the live action remake of Mulan. Originally intended for release at the end of March, the movie has now been pushed back to July. A date that some might argue is still not going to be a point where we’re out of this pandemic enough to reopen cinemas.

At which point, why doesn’t Disney simply put the movie out on Disney+? It would no doubt boost subs to the service even more, and given the current state of the world, putting these movies out rather than holding them back becomes increasingly a bad look for them, making them look like profit is all the care about. Which will get tougher if other movies start forgoing the wait and going straight to home online rental.

I’d imagine that many studios are afraid to do this, because it could become the new norm. And 12 months from now, when this should have all cleared, people might be less willing to go to the cinema at all and instead expect to be able to watch the movie at home. In their own space, at their own leisure, on their own terms.

I know, for one, that ultimately going to the cinema is a matter of necessary for me. I enjoy the experience while I’m there, but it increasingly feels like a chore these days. It’s not a social experience for me, I think I’ve seen two movies in the past 12 months with another person. Every other time I’ve gone alone.

How COVID-19 could kill cinema

If I were given the option to see a new movie at the cinema or pay a similar amount of money to watch it at home. There’s a 50/50 shot I’d bother leaving the house, especially in the colder months. More and more, I see the cinema as a social, premium experience. One that becomes an option more than a requirement.

But a lot of people don’t think like that, but given the lack of business these cinemas are getting during this pandemic, followed by the social distancing mentality that is going to stick with people even after the rules are loosened, are they going to want to pack into an enclosed dark space for multiple hours at a time?

At a certain point, it becomes less of an issue for the studios and more of one for the individual cinema establishments who are currently getting no income. Companies like Disney might be holding back their big movies until next year, but by the time they eventually feel comfortable releasing them, are there still going to be enough establishments for them to put the movies out at in the first place?

But hey, Monster Hunter is still due out in September. So there’s that…

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