Are Streaming Services Causing the Death of Cinema?

For nearly 30 years, streaming services have been available in many different formats. In 1992, a company called Starlight Networks released StarWorks, which was a way people could access videos over the ethernet. Now compare that to the present day, it’s 2022 and we can access movies, TV shows, and even watch theatre through our everyday devices like our TVs or mobile phones. This shows that in just 30 years, streaming services have gained immense popularity and the only way is up for companies like Netflix, Amazon, Disney, and many more. So with this knowledge of the uprising of streaming services, the question is, are streaming services the real reason why cinemas are on a slow inevitable journey towards death?

It is said that no one person invented the idea of cinema but it’s safe to say that back in the 1890s, cinema made a huge advancement with the introduction of the kinetoscope. The kinetoscope was a device that allowed one person at a time to view film through a small hole. Since then, film and cinema have advanced to what we know of it now, grabbing some popcorn and a drink, going into a dark room with over 200 seats, and watching a blockbuster movie on the big screen. What could be better than that? Before Covid-19, from 2010 to 2019, the average annual admissions for cinemas in the United Kingdom was 169.9 million. However in 2020 following the Covid-19 outbreak around the world, cinemas took an all-time low of admissions. For example, the UK’s cinemas only took 44 million admissions in total. Since then cinema has struggled to re-emerge and people around the world are choosing to pay for streaming services to watch movies rather than make the effort to leave their homes to watch a movie at their local cinema.   

So Why Have Cinemas Struggled to Re-emerge

Following the rise of Covid-19, many governments around the world were forced to put their respective countries in a lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. With no work or school, people turned to various activities to try and kill time in the lockdown. One of the more popular activities was binge-watching movies and TV shows using various streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus. This saw the rise of subscriptions to streaming services around the world and many companies began producing as much content as they possibly could for their respective streaming services. At the end of 2019, Netflix had around 167 million subscribers streaming on its platform. Following the Covid-19 outbreak, one year later, at the end of 2020, Netflix had around 203 million subscribers, that’s a 36 million subscriber increase in one year. 

Although the numbers are important, there is arguably a better reason why people are now choosing streaming services over going to the cinemas. Before Covid-19, streaming services were popular but they were never seen as a real competitor to cinemas when it comes to new movie releases. However, it’s safe to say, film production companies have had their eyes opened to the possibility of a movie doing financially well when releasing that movie through streaming services since Covid-19. This allows people to see new movies in the comfort of their own home and there would be no need to leave the house if it’s accessible from your living room. One example of a big film production company doing this is Disney releasing Marvel’s Black Widow on Disney Plus at the same time it was released in selected cinemas. In 2021, with Covid-19 looking like it will be around for a while, Disney decided to give fans the choice of either going to one of the few cinemas that were open or watching through their streaming service along with an extra cost due to it being a new release. The movie ended up generating $125 million on Disney Plus alone. Along with the $379.6 Million it made in selected cinemas around the world, this further proves releasing movies on their streaming services can be profitable.

So how does this have anything to do with why cinemas are struggling to re-emerge? With the number of subscriptions rising and the amount of content produced by the streaming services on the rise, why would there be any reason for people to go to the cinema? They have all they need in the comfort of their own home. Covid-19 has not only opened film production companies’ eyes to the benefits of streaming services but it has also opened the eyes of the consumer. They now have to put in minimal effort to see a movie, they can just pay a subscription fee and get it at their fingertips. This is why cinemas have struggled to re-emerge, they no longer have as much content to offer to the consumers and they are purely relying on the triple-A movies to generate the profit they need. To further prove this movie star Ben Affleck believes that one day cinemas will only be for Marvel releases and event-based films. This shows that the cracks in the cinema experience are starting to show and even movie actors themselves are starting to realise. 

Streaming Services or Cinemas?

Although the cinema experience is showing signs of decreased interest from the numbers. I decided to gather my own research by using various methods. The first method I used was a simple survey. I asked 13 people whether they prefer watching a new movie at home using streaming services or with the cinema experience. Out of the 13 responses, a total of 6 people said they would prefer the cinema experience over watching a new movie on a streaming service at home. This left 7 people who would prefer to watch it from home using a streaming service rather than going to a cinema. From these figures, I can see that different people have different opinions, there is no clear winner and from doing this research I was able to pick up on the fact that it depends on the person and how devoted they are to watching movies. One response I got was, 

“Cinema. Because I love the cinema experience and it makes the movies so much better. I personally think streaming services are more for watching a movie for the second time after you have watched it in the cinema”. 

However, on the other hand, another response I got was, 

“For the convenience of easy access I have to say a subscription service at home, but watching it at the cinema does have a bit more value if you’re only going there to watch the film by yourself, with multiple people it would begin to be a lot more expensive and on top of that you would maybe buy food and drink which will add more expenses.”

This not only shows that convenience is a factor but the price is a factor as well. There are too many different factors when deciding and that is why I was unable to identify one clear winner when I did the survey.

 

This led me on to the next bit of research I wanted to conduct, what is the psychology behind someone wanting to go to the cinema and the psychology behind someone wanting to watch from home using a streaming service. Many psychologists believe movies help improve your overall lifestyle, some think they help improve focus and some think they can help someone with stress and mental health. Watching a movie can be an escape for many people, and they can use that two hour movie to forget about their life for a bit and just enjoy the spectacle in front of them. That is why cinemas can be much better than streaming services because not only are you escaping reality within the movie but cinemas offer extra assistance by being in a dark room with a giant screen. However, on the other hand, being in the comfort of your own home can offer that extra bit of comfort you may want when watching a movie. Watching from home can be easier to arrange as you don’t need to go through the task of booking seats and travel arrangements. This once again doesn’t help me come to a clear winner of what people would prefer, cinema or streaming services.

The final step I took in my research to find a clear winner was to simply try both experiences myself and see whether I enjoy watching movies in the cinema more or whether I enjoyed watching a movie in the comfort of my home using a streaming service. The movie I chose to watch was The Batman. I will watch it in my local cinema and also watch it again using the streaming service HBO Max. I travelled to my local cinema first and sat down for a full three hours and I can safely say I enjoyed my experience. The dark room with the big screen enhanced my experience and made me forget about reality for a while. I walked away from the cinema feeling that the £5.99 I spent on a ticket was well worth the value. Next, I watched The Batman again however this time it was at my house using the streaming service HBO Max. Some benefits I found using this method were that it was nice to be able to pause it if I needed to and it was also nice that I could rewind if I missed anything. One other benefit that stood out was the fact that I could watch it with as many people as I wanted and it wouldn’t cost me an extra penny. There were once again benefits on both sides, however, I can safely say that I enjoyed the cinema experience more than I enjoyed the streaming service at home. When it comes to watching a movie to try and escape reality, the cinemas do a much better job at that than the streaming services do. The fact that The Batman movie was almost three hours and it felt longer watching it at home was a clear and obvious sign to me that I enjoyed the movie much more in the cinema. 

So What are Cinemas Doing to Stop Themselves From Going Under?

With the rapid decline of admissions, cinemas around the world have to be ready to take steps to prevent themselves from losing the battle to online streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Disney Plus. This leads to my next question, what are cinemas doing to stop themselves from going under? 

Most cinemas have taken notice that the price of the experience can be pricey, especially when adding food and drink to the mix. That is why some companies such as VUE Cinema in Plymouth have decided to lower their admission prices. Their prices range from £5.99 to £7.99 depending on what type of seat you get. However, some other VUE Cinemas around the country still have a high price fee when it comes to buying seats. Staying competitive with streaming services is key for cinemas so bringing their prices down to a more affordable price will most definitely help them bring in more admissions while offering consumers more value for what they paid for. Value for money is also very important as when an individual subscribes to a streaming service, they not only get access to new movies, they also get access to a whole lot of bonus content such as TV shows. 

Due to the rapid rise in popularity of streaming services thanks to Covid-19, many streaming services have started producing their own content that is only available on their platforms. Some examples include, Disney Plus releasing WandaVison and The Mandalorian and Netflix releasing shows such as Afterlife and movies such as Red Notice. Many other streaming services have followed suit and this gives subscribers more value for their money and this edges more people to pick streaming services over cinema. That is why Cinemas are very reliant on huge blockbuster movies to keep them afloat both financially and in terms of relevance. However, cinemas relying on blockbuster movies is something that won’t last forever so it is important for cinema companies to try and figure out a new way to draw more potential consumers in and offer them an experience they couldn’t get anywhere else.

Overall Thoughts and What we can do to Help Cinemas. 

So my big question was are streaming services causing the death of cinemas, and although there are plenty of signs pointing towards that they are causing serious problems, I believe cinemas will hang in there and get through this rough patch they have been in since the arrival of Covid-19. With movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home being released and generating $1.893 billion in box office sales. It’s safe to say they will be around for a little bit longer thanks to big film corporations like Disney and Marvel. However, on the other hand, streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus, are continuously growing and growing at such a rapid pace. This is something that cinemas are well aware of and this will be something they are going to be competing with for many years to come. 

One thing that cinema lovers can do is keep going to the cinemas and encourage friends and family to choose the cinema experience rather than watching from home using a streaming service. Since the arrival of Covid-19, I believe people have forgotten what the cinema experience feels like and they have gotten used to watching movies in the comfort of their own homes. So now it’s time to get back out there and reignite that passion to go to the cinema and watch a new movie on the big screen and escape reality for two hours.   

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