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  • Shavonne Stellato

Is Streaming Taking Over the Movie Theater Experience?

Do you remember having to watch a new movie in the theater and having to wait a couple of months for it to release on VHS or DVD? With streaming services, you can watch movies as soon as their released at home and not have to wait. The rise of streaming has changed the way we see movies and the arrival of the COVID pandemic has certainly strengthened it.

Ever since 2020 box office numbers have been down as no one wanted to venture out and take risks. All logic pointed to the pandemic as the cause of the drop and that hopefully over time the numbers would slowly return to normal. However, thanks to a certain movie that perception changed a little bit. When Spider-Man: No Way Home hit theaters in late 2021 it’s opening weekend broke records despite fears of the new Omicron variant. Various other highly anticipated movies have since followed suit including No Time to Die, Top Gun Maverick, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

At the end of 2021, searches for movie tickets had increased significantly with Google Trends recording in mid-December a big boom of interest in cinema, mostly in India and Australia. Movie tickets had shown a moderate increase throughout 2021 but a big spike mostly occurred in December.

Trends like these and huge box office receipts stand to serve as a healthy measurement for theaters and helps us remember that consumer behavior is an important aspect of business even if it doesn't seem so. People won’t stop watching movies just because they can’t go to the theaters, they’ll just watch them on streaming services instead. That’s at least the general consensus but it is actually more complicated than that.

According to a survey by CivicScience many Americans would rather stream new releases in their own home than go to the theaters. Results of the survey vary by age, with older people opting for home viewing. “As of May 2020, 62% of adults in the U.S. subscribe to some sort of streaming service, according to a 2021 Statistica survey.” In the United States streaming service revenue is expected to reach $42 billion by 2025. Netflix the currently leading streaming service, has 75 million US subscribers and 23% percent of the population. In China, the data is smaller but is following the same growth, increasing in revenue of $7b in 2015 to $18b in 2020. For now, the growth in streaming seems never ending.

If you’re expecting a future where all movies are on streaming services instead of debuting in the theaters, the probability of that is low. Instead of going to the theaters Universal Picture’s Trolls World Tour released only on Fandango and Amazon Prime Video For $19.99. Although it was profitable for universal, not everyone agreed with it. Universal received harsh backlash from the cinema industry accusing them of “breaking the business model” and cinema chains threatened to boycott future films. They never tried to repeat this strategy again.

While we don’t know what the future of movie theaters will hold, films like Spider-Man: No Way Home have proven that people still enjoy going to the movies. Spider-Man generated over $1.5 billion globally, joining the list as one of the highest grossing movies ever made. According to Kelly Loosi, a professor of animation at Brigham Young University filmmakers rely on movie theaters so their movies can get the experience that they provide and to be able to reap on the financial benefits. “Most of them grew up watching movies in the theater and they love that experience. More important than that is the financial impact. It used to be that a movie would play in the theater, then it would go to prime cable TV stations like HBO, it would be sold on DVDs or Blu-rays, then after that play on channels like NBC or CBS,” Loosli said.”

To Loosli, streaming services are beneficial since other types of movies can be made available. You won’t find many romantic comedies or relationship-based in the theaters, but you can find them available on streaming platforms. However according to Loosi, a problem with movies made just for streaming is that they are poorer quality as they are made with much less care than regular films.

So, what does the future of movie theaters and streaming hold for us? Even though streaming seems the way to go for most, movie theaters are proving to be able to hold on in tough situations. If we continue to have strong successful movies like Spiderman: No Way Home then maybe theaters will be around for a long time to come.


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