The world is officially in a new state of normal, and the film industry is rushing to catch up to it. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how everything works – and in turn, where revenue comes and goes from.
Cinemas, for one, have closed around the world. Bollywood has come to a standstill with lockdown measures in place. Even as India nears 1.5 million recorded cases, even Bollywood stars such as Amitabh Bachchan and his son Abhishek are not safe, with both being treated in a Mumbai hospital for the disease. On the other side of the world, Canada’s film industry has seen an estimated US$1.8 billion loss from its shutdown with an impact on more than 172,000 jobs, according to the Canadian Media Producers Association in April.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Aaradhya discharged from the hospital after testing negative for COVID-19, Abhishek Bachchan and Amitabh Bachchan continue to remain admitted.
— Sonam Mahajan (@AsYouNotWish) July 27, 2020
In Australia, production is resuming on long-running soap opera Neighbours, thought to be the first English-language TV drama to resume filming. However, the new normal is seeing the cast social distancing on set, with special camera angles to make characters appear closer together.
The cost of the industry-wide shutdown there is estimated to exceed US$325 million. Work on more than 100 TV shows and films have ground to a halt.
The worldwide impact is staggering. In mid-March, the global box office revenue loss stood at around US$7 billion, in part due to the 70,000 cinemas that were closed in China. Analyst firm Omdia estimated that 96% of global screens were dark as of mid-April, and Gower Street Analytics estimated that less than 1% of cinemas in the world were active as of early April, mainly in Japan, South Korea and Sweden. A re-release of , Korea’s third most popular film in the weekend on 17 April, sold just 2,101 tickets. Box offices are reeling.
Streaming giants capitalise on the new normal
Streaming companies such as Netflix have naturally benefited, as the giant more than doubled its target for subscribers in the first quarter of 2020 to 16 million. Filming on its original shows, such as The Witcher and Stranger Things, have ground to a halt; regardless, the company’s shares have soared to record highs.
.@Netflix gained almost 16 MILLION subscribers in the first quarter of 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, exceeding the original forecast of 7 MILLION for the timeframe.
The streaming service now has a total of nearly 183 MILLION subscribers worldwide. pic.twitter.com/jTvPkWM6W1
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) April 22, 2020
DreamWorks Animation also moved quickly, deciding to premiere its movie Trolls: World Tour straight onto digital. The sequel broke digital records, making more money for Universal Pictures than its predecessor did during five months in theatres. Following that, Universal fast-tracked the consumer availability of The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma.
Disney quickly followed suit, releasing Frozen II on Disney+ several months ahead of schedule, only weeks after debuting on TV on demand, joined shortly by Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker and Pixar’s Onwards.
“Over the last weeks, we’ve seen traffic increase dramatically in some countries,” said international streaming guide JustWatch’s Karoline Himmel. “We had a closer look at the number before and after lockdowns or other actions governments took to contain the spread. For example, Spain has an increase of +200% whereas Germany just has an increase of around +130%.”
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Netflix viewing parties have become the new social trend. Some cinemas, such as Everyman and Curzon in the UK, have been arranging their own ones; London-based entertainment company Secret Cinema, who specialises in “immersive film experiences”, has started “Secret Sofa” viewing parties – essentially syncing up thousands of viewers in partnership with ice-cream company Haagen-Dazs.
However, streaming isn’t set to replace cinema entirely. It’s not a zero-sum game, says Phil Clapp, UK Cinema Association chief executive officer. “We’ve known, I think, for a long time that the most frequent streamers are also our best customers,” he said.
Universal has no plans for bypassing cinemas either for major tentpole titles such as Minions 2 and Fast & Furious 9. The latest Bond film No Time to Die will release in November. Streaming and cinema, it seems, will continue to coexist peacefully. Cinemas aren’t as doomed as we think they are.