So, cinemas are closed. The industry survived World Wars, the advent of television and the introduction of video and DVD. Streaming was meant to be "more of the same" but does the pandemic change things?
Studios are starting to release titles like Trolls 2 direct to streaming. Rumours abound that Disney are preparing to send Mulan straight to streaming too. Is this a short term reaction to the pandemic or a long term shift in release strategy?
First let's think about how movies make money (yes, we all love movies for how they move us but it's an industry like any other!) We need to think about the "life" of a film. Before it is released studios generate income from sponsorship and commercial deals. There's a short window (at most 4 weeks) after cinema release where the movie creates revenue from cinema ticket sales (Avatar holds the worldwide record, just under $3bn!). Then comes a long tail of pay per view streaming, streaming via paid for platforms and ultimately syndication around TV networks, airlines etc.
So for a studio to release straight to streaming they forfeit a big payday.
This only looks sensible if there are other benefits for releasing in this way. For example, Disney+ are charging a monthly subscription for all content on the channel. Does a movie release through Disney+ bring in lots of new customers (who will stay with the channel)?
What seems most likely post-pandemic is a great deal of "testing" of release windows. From 8-12 weeks following a film being in cinema it will be cut to 4 and the impact assessed.
There will be other benefits of shorter windows to studios. The streaming release coming so soon after theatrical should mean a reduction in necessary marketing spend for example and an increase in commercial opportunities across the two platforms.
It seems likely that a shortening of the window may mean that movies that are expected to underperform at cinema move straight to streaming (saving on costs) which ultimately will mean better quality movies in cinema and broader choice on streaming - good for everyone!
Given the proliferation of "owned" platforms (Warners, Disney, Universal etc) that either already exist or are in the pipeline it seems likely that studios will differentiate what's available on their own platform (exclusive, new) and the consolidators (everything else).
A shorter window is likely to improve the experience of the cinemagoer. Cinemas will not be able to rely on the exclusivity of a movie being in theatres (or you'll just have to wait!) and will need to create other reasons to ensure that people are enticed to see the movie in theatres. Better seating, sound, dining options. The overall cinema visit will need to return to being about "the experience" not just "the film".
In short, covid x streaming will not kill cinema. It might just make it better.