The Cinema is Dead, Long live the Cinema!
I normally avoid topics that are current and involve business models, however I decided considering what I cover in this blog I couldn’t really avoid this subject. A few days ago it was announced that ‘A Time to Die’ the next James Bond film has pushed it’s release from November to April 2021. The majority of other blockbuster films have already been pushed through to next year so this announcement was far later than them.
It has now been released that Cineworld is shutting all it’s Cinemas in the U.K. and the U.S laying off up to 5000 staff in the U.K. market alone. If you look at social media there are a lot of comments accusing Bond of killing Cinema, as it is believed that Cineworld’s reasoning is they have no knew product to show. The film Critic Mark Kermode, who’s opinion I respect said the following.
I think he’s being too simplistic in his assessment. The release of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ in August was meant to pull people back into the cinemas but this did not happen. It has struggled financially, as much as some film fans will attend socially distanced screenings many people do not want to be in such a space in the middle of a Pandemic. The measure‘s that cinemas need to take such as extra cleaning, more staff with less customers means it’s a struggle for showings to break even financially.
I’m all for context, I have several times in my life heard the reported Death of Cinema. What I am talking about involves my knowledge and experience of the British Cinema, I cannot comment directly on U.S or other countries as my experience /knowledge is much more limited.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s most Cinemas were buildings from the Golden age of cinema. A lot of these buildings were poorly maintained and the experience at times was not the most pleasant. In some ways they were characterful and helped people get their movie memories. When I have seen films in Multiplexes I rarely remember the venue, the films I saw in these older places and more individual places I remember the building as well as the film. The problem was old big buildings aren’t cheap to maintain or bring up to modern accessibility standards so a lot of them closed as they weren’t financially viable.
In the early 1980’s the ‘threat’ to cinema was home media and VHS. Studio’s worked on release windows making sure films did not hit home media for sometime to maximise profits. This did encourage piracy, there was a Joke going around when E.T. was released about how many people had seen a pirate video where E.T. had one leg and a parrot. As the older cinemas closed the studio’s invested in out of town Multiplexes where they could maximise profit on the release windows they set in place.
Slowly towards the back of the 90’s and early 2000’s the studios released control of the Multiplexes to outside investors, over the past 25 years or so as much as cinema has thrived, it has become more and more expensive to the consumer. To my mind they have been gouging film fans for money for years, from extra money for 3D showings (3D has only ever been about more money) to more expensive seats or just generally increasing the price of tickets and that’s not even mentioning a myriad of over priced snacks.
Let’s now talk streaming, the film industry was burying it’s head regarding streaming, like the music industry before it Film studios have been slow to fully embrace streaming it’s product. Now however many in the industry have vested interests in streaming platforms such as Disney in Disney+. Let’s not beat around the bush we can all appreciate the art in film but in the end they are a product that those involved need and want to make money from. The pandemic has shown that given the right circumstances profit wise streaming and VOD can be as profitable as a cinema release. The ‘Trolls world Tour’ that was released on VOD just after lockdown actually made more money than it’s predecessor.
Enormous amounts of money have been spent on the new Bond Film so why would the studio risk putting it into Cinema’s now? You can imagine the press if there was a COVID-19 outbreak traced back to the showing of ‘A Time to Die’? What I think a lot of the commentators are missing is that one film will not ‘save’ cinema (if they even need saving). The pandemic has in fact just brought forward a lot of the problems surrounding distribution of films on VOD platforms and in general. It has forced studios and all those involved to address this issue a lot earlier than they wanted to. I have been saying for months that the Cinema industry will be totally different when we come out the other side. It’s horrible that people could lose jobs, however the shake up of the distribution of films is well overdue. Unless your a big studio, getting your films into cinemas is incredibly difficult. We now have streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney who have invested heavily in new films and media and they have a ready made distribution in place.
As good as home media set ups are there is always a place to see a film on a big screen. The community aspect of watching a film in a large group is some of what makes cinema a unique experience. I remember seeing ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ on release and peoples reactions to Darth Vader’s statement. The shared experience aspect is what can and does make a visit to a good cinema great. I’m less worried about the multiplexes than I am for the small Independent Cinemas, which I hope Government and local Councils will help out.
In the unlikely event that all Cinemas disappear, it will not be because James Bond has killed them. It will be a mixture of a worldwide Pandemic, Studios and Cinema chains ostrich like mentality concerning streaming, and the focus of trying to squeeze every last penny out of consumers.
Film will survive, how it will be shown may change. I hope there will be a mixture of Cinema with more access via other methods. There will always be a place for a group of film fans eagerly watching a projected image on a large screen.
The Cinema is Dead, Long live the Cinema!