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Where do you think cinema goes from here? (1 Viewer)

Reggie W

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I'm not talking quality or types of films, I am talking the actual event of going out to see a picture at a cinema.

Yes, Covid hit this industry hard but it has been hit harder than others because now movies are opening in your living room the same day they open in a cinema. It looks like our botched handling of the pandemic combined with allowing people to see a movie opening day at home has now put the screws to the theater business in a big way.

So, what is your take on this?

Do you still want to be able to go to a cinema to see a film?

Do you like the idea of never going again and watching everything at home?

How do you think this will impact how and what pictures get made?

Do you think budgets for motion pictures will plummet?

Will you miss the cinema experience?

Does it bother you that everything now will be TV?

The truth is the movie industry is at a crossroads and they are trying to sort out which way to go. Chances are there will be far fewer movie theaters and so if you go you probably will have to travel further to get to one.

What do you think should or might happen?

What do you hope happens?
 

Josh Steinberg

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I think going to the theater is going to be the movie equivalent of going to a stadium to watch live sports. Both the people who watch at home and the people who go out will view the same content but the environment in which they see it will be different. I would guess that as this transition continues to happen, the total number of screens will decrease, but the quality of the remaining screens will increase.
 

Reggie W

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I would guess that as this transition continues to happen, the total number of screens will decrease, but the quality of the remaining screens will increase.

This appears likely to be the case. What they have done in new cinema construction and renovation is to essentially drastically reduce seating capacity because now they have huge electric reclining chairs where your feet are raised and you are practically lying down. This generally also includes food and liquor being available and a table top you can swing over in front of your seat. Also the ticketing aspect has changed and you walk in and there are no people selling tickets and sometimes not even people checking tickets in some theaters. Instead you walk up to a machine and it spits your tickets out. In these cases the only employees you encounter are at the concession stands.

So, yes it all becomes more of a luxury experience. Trips for me to the cinema these last 5 years or more have been much different than theaters in the past. I did see theaters renovating while they were closed to switch over to this premium style. Again doing this greatly reduces theater capacity so far fewer tickets are sold per showing. However with the food and drink service expanded it likely does increase revenue for the theater.

The new model of broadcasting the movies the same day into people's homes does change how the revenue stream works and I am not sure how that is impacting profit on these pictures. So far what seems to be happening is a lot of complaining that they are not generating the same kind of money they did with ticket sales.

What I sort of assume is going to happen is everything will be about the subscription model. I mean when Netflix threw money at Scorsese to make his super expensive The Irishman project it seemed their goal was exclusive content boosts subscriptions and so while the film itself would not generate revenue that would cover its costs (Netflix was actually in heavy debt doing this kind of thing) the idea was it would continue the flow of new subscribers and eventually things would even out over time. That's not the normal model.

So, I would think that everybody will end up with their own subscription service. For example why wouldn't Marvel have their own subscription channel with their own exclusive Marvel content? If you want to watch that new Marvel movie at home subscribe to their channel. I would think that would give them more direct access to the revenue stream.

Disney is already set with Disney+ and they did claim they were ahead of the curve with that. I don't know how they are looking at the streaming revenue right now and I don't know how they measure how well a picture is doing outside of how many watches it gets and how many people newly subscribe to see the picture.
 

Josh Steinberg

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The thing about a direct to consumer model, whether is subscription (and FYI, Marvel content is part of Disney+), is that it has the potential to lower overhead in certain areas which changes the calculation on recouping costs.

Any “A” level picture today opening wide theatrically will have a marketing budget between roughly $100 and $300 million dollars. So when you look into production costs and the marketing costs, you wind up with something absurd like half a billion dollars just to break even. That’s not sustainable for most films most of the time.

In the old days when studios owned the theaters too, which really isn’t that dissimilar from studios now owning their own streaming services, they didn’t worry as much about individual revenue as they did about how the yearly slate performed. They knew some things would fail, others would break even and some would pull ahead; they knew some films would be critical successes that struck out with audiences and vice versa. But for the ecosystem be healthy and to function properly, theaters needed to have new product year round and in the end of the year, if the total in the win column was higher than the total in the loss column, that was a good year. That’s essentially the model that streaming is - so long as the customer continues to pay the monthly fee, and the amount of revenue coming in equals or exceeds the amount being spent on content, it works out.

Disney+ right now has about 110 million subscribers that are paying about $8 a month for access to the service. Even if they wind up giving about 15% of that to different host platforms, device makers and ISPs, that’s still a fortune coming in, and it’s a more reliable revenue stream than a theatrical release where there’s no real way of knowing if something will hit or flop that far in advance.

I think part of the reason we’ve seen such an explosion of high quality content on premium cable and streaming services like Netflix, HBO, Disney+, etc., is because they don’t have to be as singularly obsessed with each individual item’s returns. They can afford to take chances and absorb failures in a much more nimble fashion.

If you want a more diverse lineup of content whose success is measured by metrics other than “how much did this make the first three days it played for audiences,” subscription services are the way to achieve that end.
 

TravisR

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I think the reality is that theaters are going to be less popular but they won't go away. And the pandemic didn't cause that but it's hastened the theaters' decline. Far worse, the pandemic gave the studios the excuse to stab the exhibitors in the back when they're in the worst situation that they've ever been in. Day and date streaming has normalized watching a new movie at home and some of those people are never going back to a theater now.

As for what gets made, it's going to be devastating. Even huge movies like Marvel or Star Wars stuff are going to get smaller and smaller budgets when/if plenty of people are just watching their movies on an iPad or a laptop. Who gives a damn about spectacle when you're watching a movie on a 12-inch screen?

The studios will still make smaller movies in an effort to win an Oscar but they won't spend as much money (the budget or advertising) on them as they used to. I think many of those movies will just make little to no ripple with the audience and dissapear.

Watching movies at home will make them less special to many people and that makes the movies almost disposable. When you go to a theater and see a movie, you have to drive across town, pay $15 or $30 or $50 or more (depending on how many people you're bringing), buy food (if you're rich), and you see a movie- you've done something. OK, you're not doing something important but you've gone out and had an experience. When you watch a movie at home, you've seen it and that's about it. It likely doesn't have the same impact as going out to a theater and doing something and seeing a movie on a theater screen. You can see a similar thing happening with Netflix shows where people watch every episode in a few days, they discuss it for a day or two and then the show basically disappears by the next weekend. A lot of people are simply consuming it rather than experiencing or thinking about it.

Despite all that gloom and doom, I still think that theaters will survive but they will be smaller.
 

Worth

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...Disney+ right now has about 110 million subscribers that are paying about $8 a month for access to the service....
But they're spending ten times more than that on content. All of the streaming services are spending far more than they're taking in, hoping that their subscribers will grow at an exponential rate and that their competitors will fall by the wayside. It's not a sustainable model, and sooner or later the bubble's going to burst.
 

Reggie W

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But they're spending ten times more than that on content. All of the streaming services are spending far more than they're taking in, hoping that their subscribers will grow at an exponential rate and that their competitors will fall by the wayside. It's not a sustainable model, and sooner or later the bubble's going to burst.

I think this is why budgets will need to be reduced. It would seem you would make many times more in profit in ticket sales than you can make with an $8.00 subscription where everyone in the house and friends you have over can all watch the movie for just a fraction of the $8.00 or $10.00 or $15.00 a month. I think there was a rush between streaming services in a content war to win new subscribers to spend big money on exclusive content. This certainly was helping each service gain new subscribers but also creating a big debt hole.

I mean, I love Scorsese. I want him to be able to make whatever he wants. However, it seemed like the cost and time to de-age the actors in The Irishman was something that did not make sense. The picture was good but I honestly think it would have worked just as well, maybe better, using younger actors to portray the characters at different ages. Netflix ate the cost obviously to have the exclusive on a Scorsese picture. I don't know the end result of the financials of that but I kind of doubt it was good in terms of profit.

I looked at a slate of pictures that are supposedly being made to be released in the next two years. Loads of comic book stuff that is going to cost a fortune to make and if you are just predicting right now....as popular as that stuff is, it seems highly unlikely those pictures will make the $500 million or more marks they need to hit. Essentially, I think they could be looking at massive losses on the big budget stuff going forward.

I have heard that Scorsese's new picture Killers of the Flower Moon is also going to end up having a whopping budget. I am excited to see it but I don't know why the budget is so high on this. I don't think they are de-aging actors and it does not look like a special effects extravaganza.

I mean in the next couple years I think these mega-budget pictures are going to have a huge problem making money. They are already predicting The Suicide Squad will lose over $188 million and that Jungle Cruise will lose more than that. This is with this new streaming model in place. How do you sustain those kinds of losses?

Basically, this all seems a bit nuts and common sense would indicate this is not good. If you are a financial guy why would you green light something that is very likely going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars?
 
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I wonder if movie theaters will become second run theaters and have a very low admission price and show movies 30-45 days after they are on subscription services?
 

Josh Steinberg

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I don’t think there’s an audience for that, and I don’t think the economics of running a theater would allow it to survive by playing out of demand titles at bargain prices. They’re barely making rent with in demand titles at high prices.

I wonder if movie theaters will become second run theaters and have a very low admission price and show movies 30-45 days after they are on subscription services?
 

Josh Steinberg

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I think theaters should be taking an “all of the above” mindset towards making end meets and I think making it easier to rent auditoriums and allowing them to rented to show a wider variety of new and old films would be smart business.

I think theaters and studios should also work strategically to re-release certain titles in certain venues where the combination of format and title make it viable to do so. I’m thinking of how the Lincoln Square IMAX brought back The Dark Knight for two weeks on its tenth anniversary and every show was either sold out or more than 80% full, and those were nearly $30 tickets. That did better for them than the majority of new release titles they showed that summer. So why not try that more often?

I don’t think any one single suggestion is the silver bullet but I think if they actually put effort into being creative with different approaches simultaneously there might be something to that.
 

Jake Lipson

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I believe in the theatrical experience. I will always believe in the power of the theatrical experience. Prior to the pandemic, I was going to the movie theater at least once a week or more.

I am lucky to have a 40 inch TV in my room which I like. I don't want to sound like I am complaining about this. But even the smallest movie theater screen, with surround sound, usually provides a better presentation than I can get in my house. That's just a fact. So, in a perfect world, I would see as much as possible in the theater.

However, the big multiplex theaters in particular have been taking steps for years that ultimately make the experience lesser than it could be. I visited here in 2014 and 2015 before moving here in 2016. On my first visit, I saw Nightcrawler, Interstellar, Big Hero 6 and Whiplash which are all scope films. They were presented in 2.35:1 and were projected properly so that the widescreen image filled the big screen. When I moved here permanently in 2016 and went back to the same theater, they were letterboxing scope films like a DVD. The purpose of a movie theater is to show movies, and they're not even doing that to the best of their ability. They are my local multiplex, so I still go there. But it would be a better experience if they would maximize the value of their big screens by presenting movies in the best possible way.

Also, I'm sure we discussed this next issue around here at the time. In November 2019, the big chain theaters expanded the already long pre-show with advertisements to run longer. Advertisements for non-movie products and services now intermingle with the movie trailers, and the theater gets more money for the ads that run closer to the film. It used to be about 15-20 minutes of trailers between the listed start time of the movie and the actual start time of the movie. Now, it's about 25 minutes, and a lot of those commercials aren't even for movies or movie-related products. 25 minutes of our time has to pass before we get to the movie we actually paid to see. That's ridiculous. I don't mind watching a few trailers before a film in the theater, but as they keep adding more and more junk, the experience of going to the movies keeps getting longer, without that much added value for the consumer. By comparison, I watched The Suicide Squad at home on HBO Max last weekend. I just pressed a button on my remote and the movie started right when I wanted it.

Perhaps even worse than that is the constant nickel-and-diming of loyal customers, which has only gotten worse since the pandemic. Do you want to see your movie in the biggest auditorium with the best sound system? That will be extra. We recommend buying tickets online in advance to reduce contact, but if you do that we're going to charge you extra. If you want to avoid the fees, join our monthly club and let us put a recurring charge through on your credit card.

Cinemark has an option in their rewards program where they will eliminate the premium format upcharge if you want to see a movie in XD (their equivalent of multiplex IMAX) once you get enough points. Prior to the pandemic, this was a 50 point reward. Now, it is a 75 point reward. Their points system is 1 point per $1 dollar spent. Their XD surcharge is currently $3.50 (used to be $3.). So I have to spend $75 In order to get them to give me a discount of $3.50. That's a big expenditure for not very much discount. They offered free tickets before the pandemic. That cost 250 points for 1 free ticket which did not include premium formats. So you had to spend $250 to get one ticket which at the time had a maximum value of $9.75.

I know that theaters have had a rough go of it over the course of the pandemic. But even before that happened, instead of trying to improve the experience and incentivize more people to come back, they have been adding costs for the dwindling dedicated audience they still have.

I went back to the multiplex for Black Widow and I paid $16.03 for one ticket. Every element of the ticket price went up by a quarter or two since I had been there last. The base price, the upcharge for XD, and the online ticketing fee were all increased by what they probably felt was a nominal amount each. But totaling it up, I certainly noticed the difference. I know that people in bigger cities like NY and LA will look at this post and think that $16.03 is cheap, but since I do not live in a major movie market, it is way more than I typically pay for a movie, even at night. I could have spent less if I didn't want to see it on the biggest screen, or if I went in the afternoon instead of the evening, and if I didn't buy tickets online. I recognize that. But still.

Of course, in the case of Black Widow was also available on Disney+ for $30 to watch unlimited times. I almost always go to the movies alone, but if I had taken someone with me, two tickets at that price would have been $32.06 and exceeded the Disney+ pricing threshold. I was glad that I went because I appreciated seeing the movie on the big screen. However, for someone who cares less than I do about the quality of the presentation, it's pretty hard to argue that the Disney+ buy isn't a better value. Even if it was a theatrical exclusive release, some people might be fine waiting for a few months to see the film without paying that much.

These might all seem like minor issues, but they add up to the continued devaluation of the theatrical experience despite the increasing cost of partaking in the theatrical experience.

@Josh Steinberg and I have been talking in one of the threads lately (I don't remember which one) about how, prior to the pandemic, the average moviegoer would go to the theater a couple times a year for movies that really hit the zeitgeist. All of these factors which I listed in this post are providing reasons for those people to continue doing what they're already doing, which is stay home. If people don't feel like they are really getting something special out of the theatrical experience, why should they go?

To be clear here, I am not saying that lower prices, less ads and better quality control would automatically bring lost audiences back. But it might be a good place to start. These things I mentioned here predate the pandemic, and they will likely still be there in whatever multiplexes are left whenever we get to the other side of it. COVID is a whole other beast and it is creating additional reasons for people to stay home. But the theaters had been doing that already without it.

Naturally, James Gunn did a lot of interviews recently to promote The Suicide Squad. In one of them, a reporter from Variety asked his thoughts on theatrical versus streaming. He said:

James Gunn said:
I don’t really care that much. I really just care about whatever the project is in front of me. “The Suicide Squad” is made to be seen first and foremost on a big screen. I think it’s gonna work just fine on television. Listen, movies don’t last because they’re seen on the big screen. Movies last because they’re seen on television. “Jaws” isn’t still a classic because people are watching it in theaters. I’ve never seen “Jaws” in a movie theater. It’s one of my favorite movies.


I think Gunn is right.

My favorite movie of all time is Aladdin. I know that I saw it in theaters in 1992, but I don't actually remember that screening. I have seen Aladdin over and over and over again on a variety of home media releases. I broke the VHS not from lack of care but literally from overuse. Of course, by the time that happened, it was "in the vault," so I had to go buy a second VHS from eBay. Then I got two copies of the DVD. As this was before the rise of streaming, I wanted one to keep safe at home and another one to go with me to my college dorm. Then it came out on Blu-ray in 2015 and again in 2019 with a remastered Blu-ray edition and a 4K release. I've watched all of these more times than I can remember. That doesn't mean seeing it in the theater in 1992 wasn't a great experience because it was. But my specific memories of the film are now far more directly tied to watching it on my television via these various home releases.

To put it another way that is more applicable to the current moment, my favorite film of 2020 was Soul. Of course, Soul did not receive a theatrical release in North America or most of the rest of the world. Instead, I watched it for the first time at 1am on Christmas on my television. I waited up to see it as soon as it dropped on Disney+. I would have loved to go see Soul in a theater if the circumstances at the time of its release had made a theatrical run possible. But I didn't love the film any less for watching it on Disney+ instead. In fact, I was really glad to have such a great movie available to me to cap off the year in which there had not been quite as many great movies as usual because of pandemic delays. I was so happy watching it, and just having it at that time in that situation absolutely meant something to me.

It's great that filmmakers design their movies to be seen on a big screen with huge images and immersive surround sound. I hope there continues to be a place for that going forward. But almost any film is more frequently seen in homes on televisions than during its brief theatrical window. If a theatrical film doesn't work at all when viewed on televisions, there's probably something wrong with the film itself.

What I worry about most with regard to the continuing pandemic is the continued hardship and death that will happen as a result of people refusing to take a vaccine.

What I worry about for the movie industry specifically is what happens next. Black Widow was expected to be a billion-dollar grossing film in a non-COVID era. Obviouslyy, that's not the world we're living in right now so that isn't going to happen. But if the virus continues to spread for years to come, and theatrical attendance is permanently stuck at around its current levels, that's not really sustainable. Small movies will continue to get made for streaming services and whatever arthouses are left, because you can make money right now if your budget was lean. But what happens if a couple years from now, Marvel movies that would have been guaranteed blockbusters two or three years ago are still struggling as Black Widow has done? Even though its current grosses are a pandemic record in North America, they're not enough to guarantee that the film reaches profitability.

If that continues, the massive spectacle films that have driven much of the industry for the past decade or so will be harder to fund because the studios can't afford to lose money. The only reason giant movies like Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow and The Suicide Squad were available to go to streaming simultaneously is because they were budgeted and produced under normal conditions before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19 or social distancing.

Disney's approach over the last decade or so especially has been to make big, epic expensive films that are expected to generate equally big profits. That strategy worked as long as people were willing to show up to see them, especially because Disney so often excels at having those zeitgeist-hitting movies that make everyone want to go out and see them. But now, the virus is very reasonably causing people to stay home. I genuinely don't know if there is a method for something like Marvel or Star Wars movies with budgets of +/- $200 million to make money on a streaming release alone. And if theaters don't have these kinds of movies to play and audiences willing to come see them, the exhibition industry would be potentially even worse off than it is right now.

As I said earlier in my post, the movie theaters did some of this to themselves. COVID did the rest. But either way, the entertainment industry and those people who work in it (especially below-the-line talent and non-celebrities supported by the industry who don't make millions of dollars on every project) is in a pretty dire situation. I hope that both the industry and the world can come out of this.

But the way out is the vaccine, and masks, and listening to science, and right now there are too many people who won't do that. Fingers crossed the we can make it.
 
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Keith Cobby

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If studios can't get people out to see their big budget productions then it's over. If Bond 25 doesn't do the business, budgets will be ruthlessly cut. The future will be lower budget 'content' and derivative films like The Tomorrow War. As I have said previously about theatres, use them or lose them.
 

Jake Lipson

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If Bond 25 doesn't do the business, budgets will be ruthlessly cut.
Why is Bond your go-to example? I'm not trying to be argumentative here, nor am I knocking the franchise, which I like. But I think Skyfall was more of the exception that proves the rule with regard to those movies. They've always done well for themselves, but they are rarely enormous.

Looking at the domestic numbers, Casino Royale made $167 million in 2006 and Quantum of Solace made $169 million in 2008. Both of those were the highest-grossing North American totals for Bond films at their respective times. Spectre got to $200 million in 2015 but that was about $104 million less than Skyfall made in 2012. They are bigger internationally, but obviously international markets aren't back to full strength right now either. I do not think it is reasonable to expect No Time to Die to greatly exceed these results, especially In pandemic times.

This is why it would not surprise me if MGM attempts to move No Time to Die again to sometime next year, but the problem with that is we don't know how long the pandemic will last.

MGM is in the process of being sold to Amazon, which is shelling out about $400 million for one season of a Lord of the Rings TV show. I suspect they will be happy to continue to make Bond films.
 
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Keith Cobby

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Bond is a global franchise with a long financial history. If 25 is released this year and doesn't fulfil expectations then confidence will be lowered for future films and budgets will surely be cut. If it is delayed again, then production of the next one will be even slower. Without an expectation of pipeline more theatres will close. It won't take too many big budget films to lose money before all the money moves to streaming.
 

TravisR

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I think Gunn is right.
How the hell has James Gunn not seen Jaws in a movie theater? :laugh: I wasn't alive when it opened and I live in suburban Pennsylvania and I've seen it a dozen times in a theater and most of those were 35mm screenings. If I went to every screening near me, I could have seen it at least 50 times (and probably closer to 100) by now. He's 100% right that people can and do fall in love with a movie at home but he lives in Los Angeles which is lousy with repertory theaters so if he hasn't seen his favorite in a theater, he just must not be much a movie theater-goer.



Bond is a global franchise with a long financial history. If 25 is released this year and doesn't fulfil expectations then confidence will be lowered for future films and budgets will surely be cut. If it is delayed again, then production of the next one will be even slower. Without an expectation of pipeline more theatres will close. It won't take too many big budget films to lose money before all the money moves to streaming.
I think you're vastly overestimating the importance of James Bond. The Marvel and Star Wars movies are far more popular and plentiful right now. If those movies start tanking, that would be a terrible sign for budgets.
 

Reggie W

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I believe in the theatrical experience. I will always believe in the power of the theatrical experience. Prior to the pandemic, I was going to the movie theater at least once a week or more.

I am lucky to have a 40 inch TV in my which I like. I don't want to sound like I am complaining about this. But even the smallest movie theater screen, with surround sound, usually provides a better presentation than I can get in my house. That's just a fact. So, in a perfect world, I would see as much as possible in the theater.

However, the big multiplex theaters in particular have been taking steps for years that ultimately make the experience lesser than it could be. I visited here in 2014 and 2015 before moving here in 2016. On my first visit, I saw Nightcrawler, Interstellar, Big Hero 6 and Whiplash which are all scope films. They were presented in 2.35:1 and were projected properly so that the widescreen image filled the big screen. When I moved here permanently in 2016 and went back to the same theater, they were letterboxing scope films like a DVD. The purpose of a movie theater is to show movies, and they're not even doing that to the best of their ability. They are my local multiplex, so I still go there. But it would be a better experience if they would maximize the value of their big screens by presenting movies in the best possible way.

Also, I'm sure we discussed this next issue around here at the time. In November 2019, the big chain theaters expanded the already long pre-show with advertisements to run longer. Advertisements for non-movie products and services now intermingle with the movie trailers, and the theater gets more money for the ads that run closer to the film. It used to be about 15-20 minutes of trailers between the listed start time of the movie and the actual start time of the movie. Now, it's about 25 minutes, and a lot of those commercials aren't even for movies or movie-related products. 25 minutes of our time has to pass before we get to the movie we actually paid to see. That's ridiculous. I don't mind watching a few trailers before a film in the theater, but as they keep adding more and more junk, the experience of going to the movies keeps getting longer, without that much added value for the consumer. By comparison, I watched The Suicide Squad at home on HBO Max last weekend. I just pressed a button on my remote and the movie started right when I wanted it.

Perhaps even worse than that is the constant nickel-and-diming of loyal customers, which has only gotten worse since the pandemic. Do you want to see your movie in the biggest auditorium with the best sound system? That will be extra. We recommend buying tickets online in advance to reduce contact, but if you do that we're going to charge you extra. If you want to avoid the fees, join our monthly club and let us put a recurring charge through on your credit card.

Cinemark has an option in their rewards program where they will eliminate the premium format upcharge if you want to see a movie in XD (their equivalent of multiplex IMAX) once you get enough points. Prior to the pandemic, this was a 50 point reward. Now, it is a 75 point reward. Their points system is 1 point per $1 dollar spent. Their XD surcharge is currently $3.50 (used to be $3.). So I have to spend $75 In order to get them to give me a discount of $3.50. That's a big expenditure for not very much discount. They offered free tickets before the pandemic. That cost 250 points for 1 free ticket which did not include premium formats. So you had to spend $250 to get one ticket which at the time had a maximum value of $9.75.

I know that theaters have had a rough go of it over the course of the pandemic. But even before that happened, instead of trying to improve the experience and incentivize more people to come back, they have been adding costs for the dwindling dedicated audience they still have.

I went back to the multiplex for Black Widow and I paid $16.03 for one ticket. Every element of the ticket price went up by a quarter or two since I had been there last. The base price, the upcharge for XD, and the online ticketing fee were all increased by what they probably felt was a nominal amount each. But totaling it up, I certainly noticed the difference. I know that people in bigger cities like NY and LA will look at this post and think that $16.03 is cheap, but since I do not live in a major movie market, it is way more than I typically pay for a movie, even at night. I could have spent less if I didn't want to see it on the biggest screen, or if I went in the afternoon instead of the evening, and if I didn't buy tickets online. I recognize that. But still.

Of course, in the case of Black Widow was also available on Disney+ for $30 to watch unlimited times. I almost always go to the movies alone, but if I had taken someone with me, two tickets at that price would have been $32.06 and exceeded the Disney+ pricing threshold. I was glad that I went because I appreciated seeing the movie on the big screen. However, for someone who cares less than I do about the quality of the presentation, it's pretty hard to argue that the Disney+ buy isn't a better value. Even if it was a theatrical exclusive release, some people might be fine waiting for a few months to see the film without paying that much.

These might all seem like minor issues, but they add up to the continued devaluation of the theatrical experience despite the increasing cost of partaking in the theatrical experience.

@Josh Steinberg and I have been talking in one of the threads lately (I don't remember which one) about how, prior to the pandemic, the average moviegoer would go to the theater a couple times a year for movies that really hit the zeitgeist. All of these factors which I listed in this post are providing reasons for those people to continue doing what they're already doing, which is stay home. If people don't feel like they are really getting something special out of the theatrical experience, why should they go?

To be clear here, I am not saying that lower prices, less ads and better quality control would automatically bring lost audiences back. But it might be a good place to start. These things I mentioned here predate the pandemic, and they will likely still be there in whatever multiplexes are left whenever we get to the other side of it. COVID is a whole other beast and it is creating additional reasons for people to stay home. But the theaters had been doing that already without it.

Naturally, James Gunn did a lot of interviews recently to promote The Suicide Squad. In one of them, a reporter from Variety asked his thoughts on theatrical versus streaming. He said:




I think Gunn is right.

My favorite movie of all time is Aladdin. I know that I saw it in theaters in 1992, but I don't actually remember that screening. I have seen Aladdin over and over and over again on a variety of home media releases. I broke the VHS not from lack of care but literally from overuse. Of course, by the time that happened, it was "in the vault," so I had to go buy a second VHS from eBay. Then I got two copies of the DVD. As this was before the rise of streaming, I wanted one to keep safe at home and another one to go with me to my college dorm. Then it came out on Blu-ray in 2015 and again in 2019 with a remastered Blu-ray edition and a 4K release. I've watched all of these more times than I can remember. That doesn't mean seeing it in the theater in 1992 wasn't a great experience because it was. But my specific memories of the film are now far more directly tied to watching it on my television via these various home releases.

To put it another way that is more applicable to the current moment, my favorite film of 2020 was Soul. Of course, Soul did not receive a theatrical release in North America or most of the rest of the world. Instead, I watched it for the first time at 1am on Christmas on my television. I waited up to see it as soon as it dropped on Disney+. I would have loved to go see Soul in a theater if the circumstances at the time of its release had made a theatrical run possible. But I didn't love the film any less for watching it on Disney+ instead. In fact, I was really glad to have such a great movie available to me to cap off the year in which there had not been quite as many great movies as usual because of pandemic delays. I was so happy watching it, and just having it at that time in that situation absolutely meant something to me.

It's great that filmmakers design their movies to be seen on a big screen with huge images and immersive surround sound. I hope there continues to be a place for that going forward. But almost any film is more frequently seen in homes on televisions than during its brief theatrical window. If a theatrical film doesn't work at all when viewed on televisions, there's probably something wrong with the film itself.

What I worry about most with regard to the continuing pandemic is the continued hardship and death that will happen as a result of people refusing to take a vaccine.

What I worry about for the movie industry specifically is what happens next. Black Widow was expected to be a billion-dollar grossing film in a non-COVID era. Obviouslyy, that's not the world we're living in right now so that isn't going to happen. But if the virus continues to spread for years to come, and theatrical attendance is permanently stuck at around its current levels, that's not really sustainable. Small movies will continue to get made for streaming services and whatever arthouses are left, because you can make money right now if your budget was lean. But what happens if a couple years from now, Marvel movies that would have been guaranteed blockbusters two or three years ago are still struggling as Black Widow has done? Even though its current grosses are a pandemic record in North America, they're not enough to guarantee that the film reaches profitability.

If that continues, the massive spectacle films that have driven much of the industry for the past decade or so will be harder to fund because the studios can't afford to lose money. The only reason giant movies like Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow and The Suicide Squad were available to go to streaming simultaneously is because they were budgeted and produced under normal conditions before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19 or social distancing.

Disney's approach over the last decade or so especially has been to make big, epic expensive films that are expected to generate equally big profits. That strategy worked as long as people were willing to show up to see them, especially because Disney so often excels at having those zeitgeist-hitting movies that make everyone want to go out and see them. But now, the virus is very reasonably causing people to stay home. I genuinely don't know if there is a method for something like Marvel or Star Wars movies with budgets of +/- $200 million to make money on a streaming release alone. And if theaters don't have these kinds of movies to play and audiences willing to come see them, the exhibition industry would be potentially even worse off than it is right now.

As I said earlier in my post, the movie theaters did some of this to themselves. COVID did the rest. But either way, the entertainment industry and those people who work in it (especially below-the-line talent and non-celebrities supported by the industry who don't make millions of dollars on every project) is in a pretty dire situation. I hope that both the industry and the world can come out of this.

But the way out is the vaccine, and masks, and listening to science, and right now there are too many people who won't do that. Fingers crossed the we can make it.

Well, you cover a lot in that post. First, yes, the pandemic. We did not handle that well and because you have huge portions of the south and middle of our country that refuse vaccinations...well...the pandemic will linger as a problem much longer than it would have. With that being an issue, yes, we have a natural decline in events that require you to leave the house.

Theater owners, entertainers, concert venues, all could and many would point their fingers at the unvaccinated and those that have filled their heads with conspiracy theories about vaccinations as the ones that destroyed their industries.

However, this is the reality and really what made me write this post was I looked at what is supposedly getting made and released over the next couple years or more and it is loaded with big budget pictures, mostly of the franchise and comic book variety. Stuff they typically are going to shell out in the $200 million range give or take to produce.

The big budget stuff that was already in the can...well...my point there is what we are seeing is they are already going to take losses on these pictures. There appears no way around that. So, stream them, don't stream them I don't think it matters the math on the stuff they have been holding and hoping for a better release time....well...that isn't coming until post 2022 based on the numbers of unvaccinated in most of the country AND the fact that people seem to really love that they can watch a movie premiere at home for literally pennies based on what it would have cost them to go to a theater.

So a big risk picture like Dune. that looks doomed. The Bond picture, doomed. Whatever it is if the budget was $100 million or more you are likely taking losses on those.

I've heard some people in the business are in total denial right now and are plunging forward still planning to make these mega-budget pictures over the next two years. OK, but I hope they have a formula to get their money back on them because I don't see one.

Right now, due to how the pandemic is going the next year the movie business has to sort of be hopeful about is 2024. But, by that time where will the theater business be? That would be 4 years of crashed business and 4 years of people getting used to and liking paying pennies to see a picture at home on opening day.

I don't really know what will happen, I am hopeful that the pandemic issue subsides and everything goes back to normal. This would be fantastic. However, if you are predicting, we have to now account for spikes and a large percentage of people avoiding vaccination. This means we are still in a pandemic watch mode through 2022. It seems not to matter to large parts of the country that the new infections are 98% people that have not been vaccinated.

That's not the fault of theater owners nor of filmmakers or studios. That's just the math and that math impacts big budget movie math. I just can't see green lighting $200 million to make a picture in the next two years anyway. I can't see how streaming is going to save things when you can have 10 people sit in a room and watch a new release at $10, $20, $30, or $40 bucks for the entire room and in some cases that charge is a monthly charge not the cost to see that one picture.

You've got to account for the idea that was not the math they were using to green light these pictures. Now it will be new math.

It seems to me that when David Lowery can make a beautiful looking picture for $15 million and that picture has the potential to turn a profit, why wouldn't you invest in that kind of film? The answer in part is because the industry has grown into one chasing the billion dollar movie and if you hit on that...well...then you are a movie business legend. Doesn't matter the quality of the film only the box office take. You are judged on how much your box office is. Hence just keep churning out the same movie again and again because that keeps you on top.

At the tail end of the 1960s the movie business was a bit lost. Things had changed and the movies they were used to making were not turning a big profit. They did not know what to do and small budget pictures were drawing larger crowds. They ended up turning things over to directors and we had a revolution in filmmaking. Sure, it was mostly just a decade but a decade that many would say provided us with some of the greatest films ever made.

Perhaps we are at a new crossroads. One where everything is going to change. Maybe something better comes out of it.

Many great filmmakers would tell you that budget limitations actually inspire a lot of creativity and innovation. Maybe that happens due to this crisis they are facing.

Of course, in order for any theater to make money you have to have an audience that can come out to the theater. Doesn't matter what the picture is what is the use if you can't have people come.

So, yes, you need the pandemic to end but you need some sort of exclusivity for what a theater is showing. If you give people the choice of watch at home or go to the cinema...now you have greatly cut into the crowd that will go to the cinema.
 

Chuck Mayer

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I would heartbroken if theaters are unable to rebound. This 4th wave is far more worrying to me than the previous three wrt this business, because studios are gambling on either or both steaming and theatrical. And of course theatrical is currently losing. I saw both Black Widow and Suicide Squad at home, because neither merited a theater viewing for the whole family in these conditions. Dune does (with a bullet), Bond does, and Sir Ridley's two films. But that is anecdotal. In the end, I think many people are perfectly happy to watch any number of movies at home on their Black Friday TVs. It is just grist for the entertainment mill.

But movies feel different on the big screen, with a "united in these seats" audience, with enveloping sound or silence, in the dark. I don't ever want to lose that opportunity. The confluence of COVID shutdowns and movies = franchises = product ideology is incredibly worrisome. Ease and availability will almost always win, but that doesn't mean it should. We may watch TV and then talk about it together...but we watch the TV individually. We watch movies TOGETHER. I still think the right movie is going to be big. Now is not the time, thanks to the 4th wave and our concerns. But I still hope the right movie or movies at the right time is going to remind us all why movie theaters exist. But I will admit I do worry more every day about the future of my favorite pastime.
 

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