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Dark Movie Houses Light The Way For Streaming

The spikes in new coronavirus cases, notable in pockets across the U.S. and Europe, is having ripple effects across the entertainment industry, pushing back content production and, by extension, leaving theaters dark.

Which opens up the doors, so to speak, for even more of a deluge of streaming movies, shows and sports.

As noted in this space this week, Cineworld Group PLC’s Regal Entertainment Group is suspending operations at more than 500 locations in the U.S. – along with an additional roughly 130 locations in the U.K. – as one marquee film, the latest James Bond installment, is being pushed off until 2021. The title is “No Time to Die.”

And for at least some of the studios, and for the movie houses that show those films, the title might conceivably be changed to “This Is No Time to Try.”

“We are like a grocery shop that doesn’t have vegetables, fruit, meat,” Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal. “We cannot operate for a long time without a product.”

In essence, the problem boils down to this: The product can get to its end users by new (and in some cases, faster and more efficient) means. The pivot by some Hollywood studios to bypassing the brick-and-mortar end destinations and going straight to online delivery is still a grand experiment. Disney took its $200 million Mulan vehicle to the masses. Comcast brought the in-home version of its latest Trolls movies to families sitting on their couches.

At a respective $30 and $20 a pop, PYMNTS notes that the economics are a marked improvement to a trip to the movies, especially during fraught economic times. Consider the fact that, say, at an average $15 a ticket, the same movie for a family of four would cost $60. Not to mention ancillaries like popcorn, drinks and even parking.

To get a sense of the great movie theater brick-and-mortar fizzle, consider the fact that the $200 million movie “Tenet” grossed $45 million in North America, as only two-thirds of theaters were open (the movie has grossed more than $262 million internationally, though, where theaters have been open for far longer, as the Journal reports).

Bifurcated Model? 

We may see a bifurcated model, then – at least through the holiday season, perhaps – where streaming is the delivery model of choice in the States, where COVID-19 still rages, while elsewhere there’s still money to be made through the in-person experience.

The bifurcated model may indeed help keep the suspension of theater showings from becoming a full-on rout of closures. For example, Disney+ downloads surged by roughly 68 percent on Labor Day weekend, and spending within the app (to pay $30 to view Mulan) skyrocketed by 193 percent.

It remains to be seen whether, as theaters remain dark, consumers will opt to embrace content other than films – think sports, and lots of it. As reported last month, ViacomCBS announced a rebranding to CBS All Access as Paramount+. Among the key features: streamed sports, via NFL on CBS, Golf on CBS, SEC on CBS, NWSL on CBS, and CBS Sports HQ, a 24/7 sports news network.

It won’t be an easy road ahead for theater operators/owners, but a few paths and pivot points still remain for the content providers. As they say in the biz, content is king.

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