She is a changin’.
We were already in the heat of the “streaming wars” with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ , etc., etc… all delivering their own content straight to peoples’ homes with a monthly subscription – and then the pandemic hit. Making streaming all the more necessary and crucial to the world of Hollywood film and television.
But it is not only streaming that has been changed by this world wide outbreak. Hollywood and filmmaking as a whole have been hugely affected and may have actually changed entirely for the foreseeable future.
One topic that has been brought up and discussed in my own personal life almost as much as the streaming idea is – what is going to happen to movie theaters?
Obviously new films will continue to be made and released, but with the pandemic there have been a ton released straight to streaming or On Demand. Now, while there were always those Netflix Originals and direct to television movies, these are films that would have been released in theaters that have instead been put out on streaming in order to still reach audiences as intended.
There are those films who have pushed back release dates, though, in order to still hit those big theater premieres. But how big are these premieres actually going to be?
Unless and until a vaccine is discovered for this disease, it is difficult to consider people who are willing to go out and sit in a theater in close quarters with several people for a long period of time. And even then, people are still going to be more cautious and careful with where they go and how much time they spend there.
Making things even more difficult, Universal Pictures has realized how successful and lucrative an immediate release to digital rental can be. The studio recently came out with statistics claiming its most recent Trolls film has made more money in just three weeks of digital release than the original made in five months in theaters.
While part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that all of America is under quarantine and families have not much more to do than rent and watch movies for entertainment, it is still easy to see and understand how this may transfer over to a post-quarantine world. If a film is released on digital and in theaters at the same time, it will give audiences the option to stay at home and enjoy it or go out to a theater and watch it. And, once again, with the fear of the pandemic remaining even after the quarantine is lifted, people will be way more cautious about leaving their homes and spending time in public places in such close quarters.
Finally, the studios reportedly get 50% of box office sales of their films, but get 80% from digital rentals and purchases. This means even if there are less digital sales and rentals than theater attendances, the studios will ultimately make more money from the direct to digital releases anyways.
The movie-making business is still just that – a business – and it is hard to see the higher power executives actively choosing less money to release their films solely in theaters. As much as it hurts to say and think about, movie theaters may be on their way out with this growth of digital streaming and downloading. Just as physical movie rental businesses went with the growth of streaming, this pandemic may have shown studios and audiences the future of film releases.
Another thing that is guaranteed to be affected by this pandemic are the stories that will be told in films.
It is no secret that the majority of filmmakers write and create content based on personal experience they have had throughout their lives. And being that the pandemic has in fact been a worldwide affection, it makes sense that there will be several people writing and creating content based on it in some way.
In coming years, it will be no surprise if the majority of big budget films have a plot centered around a pandemic and/or quarantine. Whether it be in a realistic-fiction where the disease is actually COVID-19 or a science-fiction story merely based on the actual situation, there is bound to be a slew of films based on this global pandemic.
There is also the other side of this situation, though, in that, Hollywood may try to avoid these stories. What if they want to distance themselves from this issue?
Films are often meant as a distraction from the realities people are suffering, so it would make sense that the films regarding pandemic and quarantine may actually want to be avoided. After all, having lived through the realities of the story people do not necessarily need to see a fictionalized, possibly watered-down, or even “fun” version of it. Knowing what came from it and not knowing where the world will stand afterwards is a huge question mark hovering over everyone’s head.
SO… WHAT’LL HAPPEN?
Without question the film industry – just as the rest of the world – is going to be permanently changed by this pandemic. It will be no surprise to me if films continue to be released on digital so people can watch new releases in their own homes in tandem with, or even instead of, being released in theaters. A post-quarantine society is going to be much more cautious with how they spend their time in public and around other people.
Films realistically portraying or fictionalizing the pandemic are bound to be coming with its end, but maybe not in as plentiful supply as one might think and may not see the success they expect. Film and television are meant to act as some escape from reality for its audiences. Some studios may think it smart to strike the iron while it is hot, and immediately release films regarding pandemic and quarantine. Others may keep the topic off limits, and realize that it is not something people want to see right away.
Nevertheless, with such an unprecedented global situation, who knows what the outcomes may be and how permanent they are? The only certainty I can confidently share is that the film industry is going to be a whole different ball game.