Could COVID-19 Put an End to the Movie Theater as We Know It?

During the pandemic, streaming movies has expanded while theaters are closed. Could this continue when shelter-in-place is over?

I think I have achieved quarantine Bingo. So far, I’ve:

  • Worn leggings every day
  • Attended a Zoom happy hour
  • Had a meeting my kids interrupted
  • Binged Tiger King
  • Tried a face mask
  • Baked beer bread
  • Paid $20 to watch Trolls: World Tour, which was released directly to streaming sources instead of theaters since they’re all closed now

Apparently I’m not the only one to pay to stream a movie that skipped the theaters. 

Or the only one who watched Trolls. According to CNBC, that movie has so far grossed $150 million in rental fees. Would it have made that much in theaters? I couldn’t tell you, and I certainly can’t speak for all parents, but I will say I would have paid pretty much anything to get my kids to sit quietly for an hour and a half, despite the fact that they now are singing “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun” on repeat.

Universal, the movie’s production company, is certainly taking note. As the Wall Street Journal reported, NBC Universal’s CEO Jeff Shell is toying with the idea of having movies released directly to homes and in theaters in the future. This news was not welcomed by all. AMC’s CEO Adam Aron reportedly sent a letter saying that he was going to take his ball and go home, because if Universal goes through with it, AMC would stop screening Universal films. 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

People were already going to the movies less before the pandemic. In 2019, theater attendance was 1.24 billion, a 4.6 percent drop from 2018. If more companies decide to release their movies directly instead of in theaters first, and theater companies restrict what they’ll show as a result of that, what’s to become of the movie theater?

Movie theaters will certainly have to adjust to post quarantine life, especially if social distancing is still required even after businesses are open (and even if it’s not required, people might be leery of being near others for a long while). That might involve blocking off some of the seating so that people don’t get too close to each other, among other changes.

Developers might need to have a new strategy to attract customers. Perhaps a solution is to incorporate other asset classes into the property, such as including office and retail space, as some performance theater developers are doing. Or to include more experiential features. 

On the other hand, maybe we’ll see a surge of movie goers after businesses can reopen, no matter what is being shown. After being trapped inside for months during a real-life horror movie, maybe people will be craving the escapism that only a 10-foot Hemsworth and a bucket about half that size of salty popcorn can cure.

What do you think? Will movie theaters survive the pandemic? What changes will they have to make? What did you think of Trolls: World Tour? (It was surprisingly not bad, right? Or is that the cabin fever talking?) Leave a comment on our Facebook page or send a tweet to @CPExecutive or @JFiur.

Stay safe, everyone.