Movie Theaters - R.I.P.

From - caption

Last week, I posted an upbeat blog update about my system for managing vendors.  This week's update on a past blog is far bleaker:

Movie Theaters as we know them are done


Disclaimer: All of the ideas expressed in this article are my personal statements and opinions, and do not reflect the opinions/statements of the City of Urbana.


In January, I wrote piece about the movie “1917” and the movie-going experience, and how streaming services were hurting attendance.  You can find it here:

Little did we know that two months later would come this crushing combination of events:

1)    Movie theaters were forced to close for weeks (months?) - and they may only be able to re-open with strict seating limitations to maintain social distancing.

2)    Movie releases have ground to a halt, delaying revenue for the Spring/Summer movies, and productions have stopped - so there will be a gap of content for a future season. Most (all?) films that were in-process are shut down. 

3)    Most importantly – distributors crossed the Rubicon and released major movies directly to video-on-demand. Worse, they have stated that they intend to continue doing it.  (Note #1) Before this, there was a tacit acceptance with exhibitors to preserve the “release window” even though it was shrinking over time. Good information on that here from the "other NATO" - the National Association of Theater Owners:

Simply put, the jig is up and the movie exhibition model as we’ve known it is dead. 2020 will go down as the debacle year for movie theaters.   The pandemic’s impacts are just further pressure on top of the long-term decline in exhibition that was already going on. See the depressing picture at the top of this piece that stops at 2018, and then ponder that 2019 was lower than 2018 – even though it contained the finales of both the Avengers and Star Wars franchises. (FYI - any comparison of box office that uses revenue is misleading, due to ticket price increases... this is a chart of the number of tickets sold, a better measure.)

Of course, this does not in any change my long-term plans to return to movie exhibition! Here’s the key point: while the current movie release paradigm is dead, there will still be a niche business of running a theater that shows content people want to see on the big screen. What’s important is the theater experience… which is too often overlooked today. The content is almost secondary, but the optimist in me sees an ever-larger pool of content to choose from: I think there will always be a small trickle of new movie releases, but there will also be sports, stage performances, “classic” content (Note #2), and simulcasts of new series episodes (an under-used stream of content today!). 


Note 1: A shout-out to AMC for the principled stand that they’re taking on this (see this article: I had a similar experience in 2011 with Magnolia films. Livid at their Video-on-Demand (VOD) strategy, I made no friends when I gave an earful to the Magnolia person attending the 2012 Art House Convergence. Ultimately, the problem is that exhibitors need content – and if Universal releases the new Jurassic World movie in 2021 (as they are currently scheduled to do), I’ll wager that AMC will be showing it. In my case, I broke down and showed two more Magnolia releases in 2012: Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie and Headhunters.

Note 2: One of the things that’s personally helped me get through the pandemic has been classic games from the NBA Channel. “The Last Dance” is good TV, but I’ve been loving re-watching classic Finals games shown in their entirety with no commercials. Right now, I’m in the midst of the 2013 Spurs-Heat showdown, but nothing was better than re-watching the 2016 NBA Finals, the epic clash when the Warriors went down in 7 after their record-breaking season of 73 wins. My only complaint is that while you’re watching the games, a box pops up periodically to show the original game date… and says who won the game! My memory isn’t good enough to remember who won each game (let alone the series from any given year!) – so please NBA channel – get rid of that information and let me enjoy the suspense of the game.

Bonus Video...

For more on my thoughts on this depressing turn of events, here's a discussion with Chike during Reel Reviews, where we talked about this after reviewing "The Way Back". You can fast forward the clip below to 17:40, or use this direct link. (Check out my crazy face during the random frame YouTube chose for the image!)