Movie Theaters Are Dying, and Covid-19 Didn’t Kill Them


The Covid-19 pandemic swept across the country and got its diseased ridden fingerprints on nearly every major industry in America. Movie theaters were not an exception, and after nearly 6 months of being shut down, major theater chains reopened their doors back in late August. AMC specifically were selling opening day tickets for 15 cents as an incentive for people to to get their butts in seats, buy overpriced concessions, and risk getting a case of this ever looming disease. Still, it’s not like movies had been placed on hold since the quarantine started. Sure, some of the major blockbusters were on pause (Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984, etc.), but plenty of movies made to get a theatrical release were released via streaming services. This begs the question, how viable are movie theaters in this day and age? Even without the pandemic, are people still going to the theater to consume media? Or are they becoming obsolete?

The Slow Decline

One important fact to note is that theaters were already starting to see a decrease in audience attendance even before the pandemic. According to past research, audience attendance decreased by nearly 6% in 2017, the lowest it’s been since 1992. These numbers only tanked further once the pandemic began, as theaters had to shut down completely. During this closing period, major theater companies such as AMC, CineWorld, and Cinemark all saw their stock prices drop by over 50%. When you consider that AMC lost more than $900 million dollars, it makes sense why they were desperately trying to get people on that 15 cent hype train. Now, do you want to know what service actually saw their numbers increase during the pandemic?

Convenience at Your Fingertips

With most people being encouraged to stay at home, especially during the earlier months of quarantine, it’s not a surprise that many Americans found a lot more free time to spend in front of a screen. A screen on their home television, laptop, tablet, or phone. Video streaming services, such as Disney +, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc., saw a 71% increase in watch time. Along with that, nearly 12 million new customers came into the fray, signing up for new membership on at least one streaming service. Even before the pandemic though, it’s not like streaming services were some niche market. In 2019 alone, 74% of Americans were subscribed to at least one streaming service. 

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see why these platforms are so popular. They offer the entertainment people want with the added convenience of not having to leave your house, and more. Want to watch a movie with your family or group of friends? Well, if one of you has a Netflix account, there’s no longer a need to spend up to $14 on an individual ticket for each person. You can also watch it in a controlled environment where you can have as many or as little distractions as you want. Streaming services also not only feature a variety of classics and past theatrical releases, but produce some of the most popular and critically acclaimed works of this generation. It’s no wonder that movie theaters are starting to decline.

What Does the Future Hold?

With all this in mind, it’s important to know that movie theaters and giant blockbusters go hand in hand, mainly because they serve each other. It’s the main reason that some of the aforementioned blockbusters were put on hold, because of the fear that they would not make their investment back on VOD (video on demand). Movie theaters also garner the largest number of people through these big movies. This leaves general audiences in a weird spot where the only movies they’re going to see in theaters are the 100+ million dollar blockbuster behemoths, but everything else is watched through a streaming service. It feels like nowadays, movie theaters are reserved for the giant CGI spectacles, while some of the more down to earth independent stuff is moved to streaming services. I think it’s only a matter of time before all of it moves towards streaming services, and theaters become a relic of the past. Hopefully, if anything good comes out of this pandemic, it’s the acceleration of the death of movie theaters.

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