Theaters, Streaming, and Coronavirus: How the Way We Watch Has Changed

By: Hayden Cordova | Lifestyle Editor

With the latest CDC and government guidelines regarding the coronavirus, pandemic comes countless changes to how many people, businesses, and companies conduct their affairs.  Many have been forced to adjust in a short amount of time, and few as quickly as the film and streaming industries. The coronavirus crisis has raised the question as to how these two industries will be impacted moving forward.

Regarding streaming services, platforms such as Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime had already seen marked success prior to the crisis. Now with the majority of people forced to stay indoors, the popularity of streaming services has only grown larger.  According to Nasdaq, Both stocks and membership numbers remain steadfast in their loyalty towards Netflix as the most successful streaming service to date despite the competition, even citing a boom in subscriptions from the coronavirus pandemic.  However, gauging the full success of these platforms can be difficult, with companies controversially keeping viewership analytics largely to themselves, according to Time magazine.

Movie theaters, however, have not fared as well as streaming services in the midst of the pandemic.  The Verge reported that AMC Theaters and Regal Entertainment Group, the largest theater chains in the United States, along with countless others have closed their doors to moviegoers in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.  According to Variety as of March 15, “ticket sales in North America hit their lowest levels in more than two decades.”  With future Hollywood productions effectively put on hold and the films already in theaters having only a few short weeks to run their course, this has led to studios relying on digitally distributing these films early to make up the difference.  According to Time, Disney Plus will see the release of their films Onward and Frozen 2 months ahead of their intended home release window, while Universal’s The Hunt releases on Amazon Prime just days after its premiere along with several others. 

What does this mean for the future?  While streaming platforms find steady growth in their viewership, the film industry will continue to take a hit the longer the CDC guidelines remain in effect.  Speculation abounds as to whether this will result in a gradual shift towards at-home entertainment, and if revenue from theaters will even be worth the effort in light of streaming success.  Amidst the uncertainty, South communication majors Tiffany Smith and Morgan Tooles voiced their opinion on the matter and remained optimistic regarding the recent developments that have affected both industries.

“I think the pandemic is a good test run for releasing movies on streaming services,” said Smith.  “It’ll give companies a good idea of how well it would work future-wise. But I think theaters are going to remain a pastime that a lot of people will still participate in once they open back up.”

“I think it’s an incredible idea to have these movies released early for us since we can’t go to the theaters right now,” said Tooles.  “It brings the experience of going to the movies at home. I don’t think it will change how companies do so in the future since this pandemic situation is more than likely a once in a lifetime thing.  I could see them doing so if customers asked for it, but I think people enjoy the movie-going experience too much.”