It is currently undeniable how powerfully the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the film industry. Theaters were closed for months on end, production was halted and streaming rose in popularity for viewers.
California research firm Conviva reported, “time spent streaming grew 44% between Q4 (quarter four) 2019 and Q4 (quarter four) 2020, led by the smart TV category with a massive 157% year-over-year increase in viewing hours.”
This shift has been reciprocated by many major studios; Marvel Studios and Disney have been at the helm of this shift to streaming, making a controversial decision when they decided to release the highly awaited “Black Widow”' both in theaters and on Disney+ with an additional fee of $29.99. Even if this decision was made to follow pandemic viewing trends, it was still met with pushback.
According to ScreenRant, “Originally scheduled for a premiere on May 1, 2020, the film was pushed multiple times over the course of the pandemic. Over a year later, ‘Black Widow’ finally reached theaters on July 9 alongside a simultaneous streaming release via Disney+ Premier Access.”
Following the release, Johansson sued Disney, the suit claiming, “Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”
In the film industry, payment for actors is often configured based on box-office sales; due to this, when streaming moves to the forefront, actors lose that income.
As explained by an article by Bloomberg Businessweek, “The majority of movies that appear on streaming services don’t get released in theaters. The services pay for them up front, which means stars, producers, and filmmakers can’t earn the windfalls that come from box-office smashes.”
Although the shift to streaming releases appears to be a temporary response, it still presents a real issue for those involved in production. Beyond the production, streaming releases also impact another key component of the film industry: the audience.
Many movie enthusiasts will admit going to see a new movie in the theater is an unparalleled experience.
Sophomore piano performance and computer science major Linnea Babcock agreed, “I like how seeing a movie in theaters is more of an experience. It makes watching a movie more special because it happens less frequently, and the environment is more dramatic than just watching a movie on my couch at home.”
Babcock also admitted she feels movies that release on streaming services alongside their theatrical release impact the experience negatively. “The ability to watch new releases the first day they’re out at home makes it less fulfilling than watching them in a theater. When you can just pay a one-time fee and then watch the movie at home whenever you want, it really cheapens the value and is less fun.”
Zane Stoops, a freshman mechanical engineering technologies major, thinks that the importance lies in community impact. “Streaming should be an option moving forward, as it does have the benefits of being available and more appealing to certain individuals, but it never hurts to support local theaters,” he said.
Streaming admittedly does make new movies accessible, especially during the pandemic, however, the experience of seeing a movie for the first time at home is severely different than seeing a theatrical release.
“The theater is an environment that has been designed to help the viewer be able to better connect with the story,” Stoops said.
The primary difference lies in the spectacle of the event. Seeing a movie at home is routine, but seeing a movie in the theater is an experience. It takes preparation, builds a social atmosphere and presents a dynamic experience engineered by theaters. This is why, as individuals feel safer returning to theaters, box-office numbers have started rising from when theaters initially reopened.
As people have begun to make their way back to theaters, studios have begun to return to theatrical releases. Marvel Studios shifted from the premiere access release of “Black Widow” to a 45-day theatrical release of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. ”The theatrical release was successful, with Marvel fans earning the film $247.6 million globally in its first two weeks according to USA Today. The film had the largest second weekend box-office earnings since the pandemic began.
These numbers make it clear that audiences appreciate the theater experience and are eager to return. While it is likely that the film industry will be forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am hopeful I will be able to see the day people are able to return to the theater in full force.
Follow Lillian Durr on Twitter, @lillian_durr
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