This year, one of my greatest weaknesses has been watching movies. I wasn’t much of a cinema fan before this year, but I’m slowly gaining more of an appreciation for the execution and coordination of these beautiful visual stories. It’s also appealing to watch the Hollywood stars I've grown attached to as they show off their skills. While the pandemic has been tough on the typical cinema watching experience, the movie theater industry is slowly bouncing back. It goes to show the movie theater’s strength and longevity as a cultural staple.
Over the past century, movie theaters have certainly stood the test of time. As film screenings became more prominent in the early 1900s, it was hard to tell if they could establish themselves among other forms of theatrical entertainment. However, the cinema quickly distinguished itself. It provides an escape to people who get to go into a setting designed for immersion and watch a film that they’ve anticipated. Being able to share that experience with friends and like-minded people makes the cinema experience even more special.
However, the entertainment landscape is moving towards a faster access model. With FOMO and instant gratification becoming more prevalent in the patterns of everyday, streaming has become commonplace, and the wait and buildup of watching a blockbuster or award-winning film can now be boiled down to a few clicks on a remote, computer or smartphone. The evolution of personal entertainment raises many questions about the continued existence of movie theaters and the cinema experience.
Streaming platforms are the bee's knees of online entertainment, and they're only getting better. There's a lot of big players in the market, with Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, Hulu, Disney+ and Apple TV being some of the biggest. Market share is spread out somewhat evenly between the market leaders. The streaming platforms have been able to exist alongside one another because the streaming market has become monopolistically competitive, where there is enough product differentiation between companies in the market that they can all exist. Products differ in factors such as the catalog of content offered, streaming quality and what content is included in different subscription types. While this kind of competition encourages job creation and innovation in the sector, it can also create problems for consumers.
Streaming services can easily fuel unhealthy behaviors in order to increase platform usage. For example, in order to binge watch a TV show on Netflix via a computer, only a few actions are needed (turn on a computer, open an internet browser, type in https://www.netflix.com and click on a recommended show that appears on the homepage). With such a low effort-to-reward ratio, it can be very hard to balance media consumption.
It's also very easy to utilize such a method of receiving a rewarding stimulus as a means of coping with stress, which can lead to the development of compulsive behavior and ultimately addiction. The more a person relies on quick access videos as a coping mechanism, the stronger the behavioral addiction becomes. The feedback loop that gets reinforced with each session of high quality entertainment content can lead to a net negative habit if the habit isn't regulated properly.
Meanwhile at Home
Home is where the heart is. Yes, I just said that. Jokes aside, the idea of home commonly brings about warm feelings. The pandemic was an opportunity for streaming platforms to develop additions to their services to improve the home-watching experience. Multiple streaming services are now offering rentals for movies, ranging from classics to movies currently being shown in theaters. They are also diving into creating original programming. Hulu has expanded its live and on-demand TV selection while Disney+ has increased its collection of family friendly streaming options. By creating more options catered towards usage within family and home settings, streaming services are setting themselves up to become more versatile, affordable and accessible than conventional cable services or cinema experiences.
Another strength of home viewing is that the residents usually have control over how the living area is laid out. If families really value movie nights or an immersive experience, they can save up to create a home theater-esque space in their own living areas for around $3000 (or more depending on how much they'd like to invest in it).
The Future of the Movie Theater
It's unlikely that movie theaters would go out of business altogether, but the rise of personal entertainment does make the possibility more plausible. It doesn't help that only 14% of Americans go to a movie theater at least once a month. The industry has almost 200,000 employees and a crash in the movie theater market could lead to many people losing jobs. While avoiding that is very important, the space that a movie theater inhabits allows for many possibilities.
Let's run through a hypothetical situation together. Suppose a movie theater decided to close due to a lack of moviegoers, despite being in a metropolitan area. What will happen to the property afterwards? Will it be demolished and converted into apartment complexes? Or will the building be rented and used to house a business designed to work in a space similar to movie theaters? What kind of business would work well in said space?
A business could take advantage of the screens and seating in the facility with a business model that updates the classic movie theater, such as allowing a theater to be rented out to play specific movies, TV shows or timed video game usage. If they have additional resources to invest in space renovation, they can convert the movie theaters into different businesses. Based on the square footage of the area, ghost kitchens are a possible end state for ex-theaters. Movie theaters could also be turned into social spaces, targeting specific demographics such as children, young adults or adults, such as arcades, VR rooms, clubs or music venues. The creativity that could be applied to create a new business venture with a former movie theater’s property is boundless.
Movie theaters are a contemporary institution of entertainment, but they may not always provide the same experience we know and love today. Entertainment could become more engaging and revolve around the 'viewer' more to 'create' an unique experience. If movie theaters can adapt to the times by providing an experience that's unique and high-quality enough to stand alongside personal entertainment, I'll be ready to fall in love all over again with the cinema.