September 25, 2020

Theaters Off to Slow Start, While Streaming Services Still Thrive

By Jay Bemis | Advertising Systems Inc.

Is the traditional ritual of “dinner and a movie” on a night out becoming, instead, pizza delivery and the latest hit show from your preferred streaming service at home?

That seems to be the trend right now as movie theaters, which finally re-opened their doors in mid-August, experienced a lackluster Labor Day weekend take of $20 million for “Tenet” in the United States. Normally, a predicted blockbuster such as that sci-fi thriller would take in $50 million-plus over a three-day weekend.

Globally, “Tenet” did make $200 million during the same time period, but that also was the estimated cost of its production. As Forbes would sum it up in a headline: “‘Tenet’ Absolutely Failed to Save Movie Theaters,” adding that the soft opening now has resulted in later release dates for such predicted hits as “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Candyman.”

The “Tenet” numbers indicate that Americans are hesitant about returning to theaters. A late March survey — taken about the same time that COVID-19 was spreading rapidly in the U.S. — already had shown that Americans were preferring to watch their movies at home instead of in a theater setting.

That poll, from Morning Consultant/Hollywood Reporter, found that nearly four in 10 respondents, or 37%, would “strongly prefer” or “somewhat prefer” watching a newly released movie in a theater. But more than five in 10 of the respondents, or 53%, would “somewhat prefer” or “strongly prefer” watching that movie at home, via a streaming service. (Ten percent weren’t sure or had no opinion.)

Theaters, like many businesses, are taking many precautions while trying to lure customers back during a pandemic.

Regal, for instance, is requiring that customers and employees wear masks at all times — except when customers are seated or eating in the auditorium (sorry, there also are no refills on popcorn and soda for now).

The theater chain also says it’s screening all employees daily for COVID-19 and sanitizing each of its auditoriums between shows. Floor markers dictate proper social distancing to prevent lines, and sanitation stations are plentiful. Auditoriums, meanwhile, are seated at 50% capacity where state or local law might require.

Hooray for Hollywood, Maybe?

Beyond possible development of a COVID-19 vaccine sometime in the months ahead, movie theaters did gain a dose of optimism earlier this week when it was announced that a group of Hollywood unions have struck a deal with major film and TV studios to resume production.

Many projects were delayed during the pandemic, and, as a result, studios pushed back the release dates of several anticipated blockbusters. In addition to “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Candyman,” movies that have been postponed include “Black Widow” — a Disney production that could with a streaming-service premiere on Disney+, rather than theaters. Its newest release date is projected for May 2021.

Also pushed back till May is a Marvel “Cinematic Universe” project. Marvel movies always meant big box-office sales before the pandemic arrived.

As with movie theaters, the deal that the Hollywood unions just struck with studios also includes a number of COVID-19 precautions.

Those include provisions for how to conduct work safely and prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as mandatory use of protective gear and testing of cast and crew members — “with those who must regularly come into contact with people being tested more frequently,” according to The Associated Press.

Resumed Hollywood production could be a needed boon for movie theaters, but yet another boost for streaming services, too. As we noted here recently, the streaming services at least are putting their money into advertising, which is a plus for digital and video marketers as well.

So, if you’ve already penciled in the newest release date for “Godzilla vs. Kong,” now also rescheduled for May 2021, you might add this calendar note: “Will we be watching it in a theater or while sprawled upon our couch?”

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