Is the movie business on the verge of change?


Over the last few months of the ‘Great Lockdown’ imposed on populations around the world,  if it weren’t for TV and movies providing necessary escape routes there’d be scores of people going absolutely stir crazy in isolation. 

How the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything is simply extraordinary. No aspect of daily life has gone unscathed in isolation. No business or industry is untouched by the implications of the virus-mandated edits. No country is unaffected somehow economically, financially and socially.

One industry (out of many) that is bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic is the entertainment business. As it stands, there is a complete moratorium on all art and entertainment events for the foreseeable and major movers and shakers in show business are looking for creative ways in which to deliver their product to its essential audience for which it owes its very existence. After all, without viewers, to very lucrative business would be untenable.

Traditional means aren’t available as music festivals and concerts are canceled, cinemas are shuttered and all TV and Film productions are on hold. Leaving the virtual platform as the only medium in which arts and entertainment can exist and, by that same token, be safely consumed by the masses simply because in this era of ‘social distancing’ it can be done from the comfort of one’s home.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that on-demand TV is surging and subscriptions for streaming services and box TV are rising exponentially. New-fangled social media concepts such as “watchalongs” are cropping up as well – creating a sense of a communal experience in lieu of “movie night” or cinema-going with friends, as groups of people watch a show or movie in unison all the while live-tweeting a running commentary. 

In this time of nostalgia, there’s even been a resurgence in drive-in movies, which clearly provides an alternative to being eternally at home by allowing movie fans to have some semblance of being out and about while sheltering in their cars.

However, one particularly interesting development, which is intrinsically tied to the public health crisis, could be on the verge of changing the movie business forever. That is, movies going direct to digital. 

Obviously, by now, the industry has cottoned on to the fact that the unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic is set to inflict long-term change to our daily existence. The old ways are gone. And the ‘new normal’ isn’t merely a fleeting phenomenon but a reality that could go on for months, if not years.  

Trolls World Tour was the first movie to go straight to digital last month and – wait for it, drumroll please – become a hit to boot by breaking streaming records. 

Dreamworks and Universal Studios made the important and consequential decision to release the animated musical comedy on the very same day it was scheduled for release in cinemas. Offering viewers self-isolating at home the unique chance to watch the pop-culture event for the small price of $19.99, which is essentially the price of a cinema ticket nowadays in major cities across the United States.

One could argue this is solely a sign of the ‘Great Lockdown.’ With so many families quarantined and under the pressure of relentless self-isolation, it was bound to be a digital success. But what if it is more than that. A telling sign of what’s to come in the future?

Naturally, it’s not a case of an avalanche of movies set to go straight to digital as yet. On the contrary, Hollywood has been scrambling to adapt to the current climate by pushing back release dates for their big titles to later in the year or to next year, including Academy Award nominee hopefuls such as West Side Story, Mulan, A Quiet Place 2 and Wonder Woman 1984.

But when movies that were in theatres as the public health crisis broke are already on-demand, entering the homes of quarantined families sooner rather than later – those include potential Oscar nominees Invisible Man, Emma and Never Rarely Sometimes Always – there is growing evidence of the beginnings of a wider shift from tradition.  

If this global pandemic doesn’t run its course before summer is well and truly in full swing, or if there is another wave of coronavirus in the fall – such as medical experts are warning is a real possibility – the TV and movie business may have no option but to conform to demand if only to survive.

In fact, they may well be forced to conform even in a perfect scenario, in which the world reopens and everything is hunky-dory. The reality is that things will never be the same because people have been so rattled that familiar places and activities that encourage mass gatherings no longer feel safe.  




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