Can Cinemas Survive?

A forum that I participate in was asked the question, “This pandemic aside, are cinemas still relevant to our entertainment experience or has TV supplanted them completely?”

I … had some thoughts.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

From a technological perspective:
TV has caught up to and even overtaken cinema – TV screens are huge, Dolby and other cinema-quality audio streams are available, and streaming bandwidth and/or blue-ray allows for the delivery of better picture quality.

From the social perspective
TV offers greater flexibility in timeshifting, pausing, rewinding to catch a missed piece of dialogue. or continuing at another time. Theatre’s main advantage is the “experience,” which other than seeing a picture in a crowd, is also being improved upon by consumers watching TV at home.

From a content perspective:
Theatre’s exclusivity window keeps shrinking. So movies can be enjoyed at home sooner. Certainly, the pandemic has accelerated this, as studios have product they want to monetize and theatres can’t fulfill that desire.

As for the quality difference between movies and TV shows, that’s been dwindling for some time. For me, HBO’s Rome was the first indication that TV could supplant movies as the home of epic storytelling.

I think many studios are coming around to the idea that serialized TV is a better format than movies. Look at how characters like Jack Ryan are migrating from movie releases to TV seasons. Marvel’s various forays into TV series have shown them that the format was viable for something cinematic like WandaVision.

From the studio’s economic perspective:
Movie theatres aren’t owned by studios, so they have been until recently a necessary middleman between the studios and their profits. If the studios can build streaming services, then they own the middleman’s share of profits as well.

From a consumer’s cost perspective:
Taking a family to the movie theatre twice a month could easily set you back $100. How many streaming services (with massive libraries) could you sign up to for the cost of taking your family to see those two movies? Yes, buying the components of a home theatre are not insignificant, but they’re coming down, and it’s a sunk cost – this commitment isn’t only used for home theatre, it plays many other entertainment, informative, and potentially educational roles.

So for consumers, I think the shift from movie theatres to home theatre experience is inevitable. And I think studios realize it and are planning accordingly. If any of you are old enough to remember theatres before the megaplex concept, then you know that theatres have been losing audience for a long time and have been trying to reinvent the traditional experience.

However, we need to acknowledge that there’s also a socio-economic consideration here. While the price of entry for enjoying cinema is coming down, it’s still:
A) a good TV;
B) Broadband internet; &
C) The ability to afford streaming services or purchase Blu Ray discs and own a player.

Not everyone has the funds to support that kind of infrastructure.

Will theatres disappear completely? Probably not, but I would expect they’ll end up more like the DVD-bongs that thrived in Korea in the early 2000’s – a small room that you rented to view a movie with a hand-chosen audience.

Mass capacity theatres may be preserved for special premiers in select cities, or they may just join vaudeville as castouts of modern society.