“Home Alone” in Your Home: The film industry’s response to COVID lockdown

April 16, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

As cinemas shut down amid the growing pandemic, the film industry is set to suffer more losses, and the possibility of moving blockbuster films to streaming platforms appears increasingly likely.

What does this mean?

With COVID-19 spreading across continents and pushing the economy into a downwards spiral, many hard-hit industries are struggling to adapt and survive. The film industry is one of them. Large blockbusters are postponed as cinemas shut down with the spread of the epidemic. Disney’s Mulan was set to hit the big screen on 27 March 2020 but that is now postponed. Likewise, the launch of the new James Bond film No Time to Die and the filming of the latest Mission Impossible have been pushed back. In China, the lunar new year usually signals the biggest gains in the film industry with close to $2bn in box office sales. Unfortunately, that was the same time cinemas and production were shut down. 

However, even prior to the onset of the pandemic, there were signs of shortcomings in the film industry against big streaming giants, such as Netflix. While many entertainment giants are not ready to give up their generous revenues from cinema exclusivity, studios have begun questioning the long standing tradition of airing films for several months before permitting the streaming of movies online, or through TV or DVD providers. Although the traditional model allows for the maximisation of the value of the movie, Netflix has criticised Disney for relying on this cinema model in the present on-demand age. Universal Pictures has strayed away from the traditional cinema model by making movies like The Invisible Man and The Hunt available on Sky Store and Amazon Prime Video. Sony Pictures’ Bloodshot will be available digitally less than two weeks after its cinema premier. This follows the US box office hitting a 220 year low prior to the complete COVID-19 shutdown.

What's the big picture effect?

Tim Richers, founder and Chief Executive of the cinema chain Vue International, has noted that although “families, couples, individuals are being tied up at home for weeks or months now. When it is over there will be a demand to get out like we have never seen in history. There is no scenario after lockdown [where] people will say ‘I’m not going out, I’m staying in to watch Netflix.’” While some anticipate robust growth after the pandemic, we have yet to see how studios will respond to changing consumer trends. 

Recent data has shown that younger people favour online viewing over going to the box office to watch new movies. The total number of UK subscribers to the three most popular online streaming services in the UK – Netflix, Amazon and Sky’s Now TV – surged up to 15.4m at the end of 2018. This signals a major shift in the entertainment industry with the rise of global streaming firms and changing viewing habits. This is putting pressure on both traditional pay-TV and filmmakers. 

In a way, the current pandemic is simply highlighting existing deficiencies of the film industry. Today’s on-demand age has led to a shift in consumer preferences, opting for at home “Netflix and Chill” as opposed to traditional cinematic viewing. The shutting down of theatres in response to the pandemic further exacerbates the problem this shift in consumer taste has on filmmakers. However, analysts at Exhibitor Relations have noted that the current pandemic and cinema shutdown creates the opportunity for Hollywood to undertake a test run to explore the effects of pushing major releases on streaming platforms, without suffering from the ire of cinema owners. Studios may perhaps take advantage of this period of uncertainty to test different forms of making this media available to viewers.

Report written by Robyn Ma

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