Hand-wringing in Hollywood: When Covid Killed the Cinema Star

end of cinema01Somewhere in Hollywood, on a zoom conference call, the head of a distribution company be it Sony, 20th Century Fox, or Universal is having a frank discussion about the possibility of bypassing exhibitors like AMC, Regal, and Cinemark in an effort to get their product straight to YOU.  I can hear the cursing, smell the alcohol on the breath of the people involved in the call, and imagine their sweat as it rolls down their faces.

It’s a tense discussion because it means the end of the century-old practice of going to the movies.  It also means pissing off a lot of Hollywood royalties; stars who want guarantees about where and when the films they work in will be distributed (because somehow Netflix is below them), but - thanks to the pandemic - things (like certainties) just aren’t there anymore.  

The truth is that this pandemic has upended Hollywood in a BIG way and, for months (if not years) to come, this situation will continue to change the way that the Big “H” conducts business in getting its entertainment to you.  Universal was forward-thinking in what they did with Trolls World Tour and it worked.  Considering that Paramount has sold The Lovebirds to Netflix, the release of Universal’s film on VOD shouldn’t be considered an aberration.  

"This top-down restructuring should have happened long ago, but we were always ready to line up with the others outside of the theater, pay ridiculous amounts of money, get our snacks, and sit our butts in the stinky theater chairs.  That was then, but the post-coronavirus world ... has me and you looking at things differently"


Seems like Disney+ is in a perfect position to address the needs of the consumer during  the current crisis.  As is Netflix and Amazon Prime and, well, you get the point.  People absolutely LOVE getting their entertainment at home.  Don't get me wrong.  I love going to the movies.  I love the smell of the popcorn, the buzz of the crowd, and the sticky floors: however, I am also a bit of a realist. 

What was going to be a big summer for Hollywood - what with No Time to Die, F9, Wonder Woman 1984, and Black Widow all opening it up - has simply been gutted by this pandemic.  Theaters have closed.  People are sheltering in place.  And most are using common sense when it comes to social distancing and getting groceries.

Hollywood is getting kicked in the crotch repeatedly right now.  This will not be the season they expected.  I don’t think this will be the December they expect either.  Hollywood is doing all sorts of hand-wringing as it finds itself in the position of being delayed indefinitely.  Gulp. And, trust me, when it reopens, it won’t look the same after suffering so much loss.

Hollywood is now at a point where it has to look and adhere to the demands of the consumer in order to survive.  The first thing they should do is forget about the 90-day waiting period between theatrical runs and streaming deals and bring those titles straight to the consumer through VOD and other streaming platforms.  I think we all can agree that time is pretty damn fluid right now.  The End of Cinema

It is a cruel new world that awaits studios who, for years now, have been looking for ways to bolster their bottom lines.  The crazy thing is that we have become an increasingly On-Demand world: we want what we want when we want it and we want it NOW.  The whole idea of waiting for a major studio release, I promise, has gone out the window thanks to COVID-19.

As a result, that Hollywood executive on that make-believe conference call is also considering flagging release dates.  Why make people wait for a movie?  That’s the only REAL advantage theater chains have.  Oh, so Regal and AMC chains won’t play Universal films anymore?  Okay, then.  Let’s drop F9 early and stream that sucker on Amazon Prime and other services and see what happens.

Does anyone, in that scenario, dare calculate how much Universal would bring in?  It would be peanuts to what Trolls World Tour brought Universal.  But, let’s go even further back and look at 2014’s The Interview which had its opening date in theaters cancelled due to threats made by North Korea against the United States for its comedic content.  Sony eventually released it on Google Play, Microsoft Xbox, and YouTube and actually broke even on the damn movie.  Some speculate that they did more business on-line than they would have if released in theaters.

"What happened to the music industry and to the newspaper industry is going to happen to the movie industry, too. COVID-19 was the catalyst."


This top-down restructuring should have happened long ago, but we were always ready to line up with the others outside of the theater, pay ridiculous amounts of money, get our snacks, and sit our butts in the stinky theater chairs.  That was then, but the post-coronavirus world (if such a thing exists as this could go on in waves for another two years) has me and you looking at things differently.  And it is not about living in fear.  It is about living smartly. And our entertainment can be delivered to our living rooms!

Let’s look at the facts.  Hollywood has become increasingly inefficient with bloated budgets that don’t equal returns, tons of people standing around waiting to do their specific job (a job that apparently only they can do on the set), and actors doing nothing while the time keeps ticking by.  It’s enough to give venture capitalists nightmares, which is why this conference call (you know, the hypothetical one that opens this piece) in some Hollywood bungalow is happening at all. The End of Cinema

In order to survive, Hollywood has to change and in a BIG way.  Now, I’m not saying everything should collapse, but - with Drive-Ins suddenly reclaiming past glories - couldn’t the movie theaters be a place where BIG, BIG movies go . . . just not every movie?  Perhaps more like a special Fathom-styled release.  It could be one way for theaters to survive, but - let’s admit it - most of them deserve to go under..

We already know that we are going to change.  In the wake of COVID-19, Hollywood’s method of delivery for its feature films will change, too.  We might not like it (at first), but the idea of going to a movie theater and buying expensive concessions has become, in this world, passe. The Hollywood system has - just like what happened to Blockbuster and all the Mom & Pop Video Stores that it greedily gobbled up - become a victim to sheer convenience and outrageous prices.  {googleads}

Regardless of herd immunities, the coronavirus will alter us with a cultural domino effect that shines on our face like a scar.  It won’t be forgotten.  It will change things.  

The fact is simple: VOD streaming is the future.  It is also becoming the preferred method of delivery.  Some companies like October Coast and Uncork’d Entertainment, have a leg up on their competitors as some of us are coming to the conclusion that getting together in large groups in a space that has been questionably cleaned by teenagers on their smartphones is, quite simply, a very bad idea.The End of Cinema

What happened to the music industry and to the newspaper industry is going to happen to the movie industry, too.  COVID-19 was the catalyst.  So, in light of all of this, it doesn’t make ANY sense for AMC Theaters and Regal Cinema to go to war with Universal Studios over the success they had releasing Trolls World Tour to streaming services.  It wasn’t a fluke.  It was, with theater attendance at an all-time low in the months before the pandemic and profits dwindling, a smart business decision.

While, as humans, we will always need the desire to laugh and cry together, the post-pandemic world will weigh heavily on what we can and what we should do.  We don’t know what the world will look like, but we also can’t ignore the paradigm shift that has occurred.  There will be no going back to normal.  There will be a new normal and, in that Brave New World, is where Hollywood is headed.

Like it or not, the theaters have gone dark.  It is my prediction that the exception of Trolls World Tour will be the new rule.

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