COVID-19 has put a staggering halt on our everyday lives. Our whole routines have changed and the way we consume media and entertainment is changing drastically as well. We now have more time to stay at home and binge-watch whatever we can find on Netflix or Hulu and now more than ever streaming sites are the forefront of our entertainment buzz. With the temporary closure of movie theaters, more and more releases are going straight to premium video-on-demand (PVOD).
Tensions between theaters and studios have been on the rise in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. AMC announced on Tuesday, April 28 that it will no longer play Universal Pictures films going forward. This decision came after Universal said they would release their films in both theaters and PVOD after the success of the “Trolls World Tour” movie on PVOD. Which prompted AMC to make their decision on the matter. Now it is a question of whether or not PVOD will hurt movie chains even after a post-COVID-19 world.
This could be potentially damaging to AMC considering how Universal is known for its big summer blockbusters (e.g., the “Jurassic World” franchise and the “Fast and The Furious” franchise). Universal films rack in a lot of revenue for theater chains; with the release of “Jurassic World” alone in 2015, Universal made $1,670,400,637 in worldwide box office sales. Even with AMC being one of the biggest in the world, it is unclear if it could survive without Universal films. And what happens when other companies decide to follow suit? We already see Disney releasing many original movies and content on their streaming service. A sudden pull out in support could damage AMC and other theater chains if PVOD becomes the way of the future. To combat this, many theaters have made the theater experience more luxurious. You can now get full meals at theaters, not just the usual popcorn and slush. They are also accommodating with smaller theater rooms but making them more comfortable with nicer seats that recline.
The battle for the moviegoer has been an ongoing one that has gotten harder with the convenience that streaming platforms offer and the recommendations to stay at home. But, even with the AMC exclusion of Universal, for moviegoers and film enthusiasts, the joy and experience of seeing a movie on the big screen is still very much alive and a thriving business. PVOD is only viable for the top name companies such as Universal, Disney and Paramount Pictures as they can afford to send their movies directly to PVOD. Their actors and directors do not have to worry about whether or not they are going to see a paycheck for their hard work because they know the company can afford it. But for indie companies such as A24 and Annapurna Pictures, it is different. Most indie directors cannot afford to release their films into the world of streaming when there are so many options to choose from. Their films may get lost in the grand scheme of things, and all the hard work amounts to nothing if people are not choosing to stream their films. There is also more freedom when it comes to making indie films. Indie films do not have a major corporation forcing a final say about what is and is not allowed in the film. Indie movies have a bigger story to tell and that’s something that the audience can connect with.
There is a special connection made when seeing a movie that you have been looking forward to for months to see. After reading every film festival review, finally getting to sit and enjoy it with the company of others who are just as excited as you are in your local theater is an irreplaceable experience. It is not an experience you can get at home. Theaters offer moviegoers escapism. You can go somewhere quiet and focus on one thing rather than a million things, which is something you cannot get at home if you are surrounded by work and your everyday life. Not everyone has the luxury to afford every single streaming service there is.
A lot of people would rather dedicate the time to going to the movies rather than going to their living room for the 100th time that day. And while I think PVOD is just a way things are going to be moving forward in our new world, I do not think it will be a big threat to movie chains. AMC will be better off without Universal because of the number of people who still value that experience of going to the movies. The feeling of everyone in the same theater watching something together and experiencing what is happening on the screen for the first time or the 10th is something that PVOD cannot replace. That enjoyment is certainly something that moviegoers will pay for time and time again no matter what the cost.