Streaming was Growing and Expanding before the Pandemic and now it’s in Overdrive
The last time that a pandemic gripped the planet, the film industry was in its mere infancy. Nickelodeon theaters played silent motion pictures for middle class audiences and studios were hardly the global conglomerates that they are today. Thus, the contemporary COVID-19 outbreak poses an unprecedented threat to the entertainment sphere, as theaters for the first time in history, are being forced to close their doors for the greater good.
This novel situation is causing studios to be creative in how they will persevere without theatrical releases. A number of movies have already been postponed such as MGM’s “No Time To Die,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II,” Disney’s “Black Widow,” Universal’s “F9” and many, many more.
Likewise, the coronavirus has also brought production to a halt, as work on several shows and movies are being put on pause. Among them are Warner Brothers’ “Fantastic Beasts 3” and “Matrix 4,” Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid,” and Amazon’s “The Lord Of The Rings” series.
Consequentially, there has been a lot of pressure for studios to release movies directly to Video-On-Demand or other home video markets. So far, the companies have been reluctant to do so, due in no small part to the theaters not wanting to sacrifice their piece of the profits. One notable exception, however, has been DreamWorks’ “Trolls World Tour,” which Universal has slated to be released directly to VOD, on the date the theatrical run would have begun.
For the most part, though, studios have responded to the situation by shortening the lapse between theatrical runs and home video releases. Disney, for example, expedited the release of “Frozen II” on Disney+ as a treat/marketing ploy for subscribers practicing safe social distancing. Meanwhile, Disney also announced that it will add the latest Pixar film, “Onward” to its streaming service in early April. “Onward” came out mere weeks ago on March 6th, just before theaters starting closing down and postponing releases became the new norm for 2020.
Additional studios have followed suit and started putting their movies (that would otherwise remain in theaters) straight to VOD. On top of “Trolls World Tour,” Universal recently made “The Invisible Man” and “The Hunt” available on home video markets. Likewise, movies that were on the tail ends of their theatrical runs such as Warner Brothers’ “Birds Of Prey” and Paramount’s “Sonic The Hedgehog” have also sped their way to the VOD market ahead of schedule.
This trend has been so popular in the past couple weeks that Amazon even started a new section of its Prime video streaming service titled “Prime Video Cinema.” The section is dedicated entirely to these new releases taken straight from theaters. Albeit, many of these direct-to-home-video releases are costlier than your average rental—running around $20 to emulate a movie-ticket price.
Uncertain times for Theaters raises Specter of a Streaming-only Future
Some are still hoping that studios will forgo the theatrical process altogether and start releasing new movies straight to home video in these unconventional times. Particularly, many have solicited the Walt Disney Company to put out its newly-postponed live-action “Mulan” on Disney+. The company, however, has not complied, probably for the same reason that Universal was okay with releasing “Trolls World Tour” on VOD on Amazon and Apple’s iTunes on Friday April 10th, but not “F9.”
Namely, “Mulan” and “F9” are more-or-less guaranteed blockbusters. They will make more money in theaters, presumably, once the lock-down is over, than they ever could on streaming or On-Demand platforms. Therefore, the studios are willing to wait until things blow over to get the biggest bang for their bucks in the cinema.
Theaters already face enough strife in the modern age of ubiquitous streaming, and the current virus is certainly not helping them gain any leverage. While the entertainment industry’s setbacks might seem trivial in comparison to everything going on the world right now, movies and movie theaters in particular operate on the backs of many hardworking, vulnerable people from managers, to ushers, to ticket takers, to projectionists, and more.
While the studios themselves may have enough money and power to remain afloat through these unconventional times, lets hope that they do not lose sight of their foundational workers as they search for alternative solutions.
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