The American chain of cinemas AMC has had difficult moments before. Founded in 1920, it went through a World War and a Cold War, experienced the massive penetration of television and the Internet to become the world's largest cinema chain. Today, however, exactly one hundred years after its founding, the company is forced to publish a statement that there is a possibility for it to run out of funds sometime in January. And if this is true for a giant like AMC, we can only imagine the state of the smaller cinemas around the world.
The truth is that for many businesses and economic segments it was a terrible year, but for the film industry it could become a turning point for
the existence of the whole sector
In fact, the problems for the sector began long before the Covid-19 epidemic spread beyond China and sparked unprecedented measures of social distancing. As early as the end of 2019, the expectations were for the launch of five new online video streaming platforms. A dynamic segment in which players from the ranks of Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime had already established themselves. And in recent months, they have been joined by Disney + of the eponymous entertainment giant, Peacock of NBC Universal and other players, and HBO has introduced its new channel Max.
Most of them are affiliated with some of Hollywood's biggest companies - HBO is part of Time Warner, where Warner Bros. is, too, Disney + is part of a conglomerate that owns Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel movies, and Peacock is in a group with the film giant Universal. Others like Netflix and Amazon Prime also rely on strong content of their own. This means that they have both the knife and the bread in their hands.
It was only a matter of time before they wanted to reach the end users directly, questioning the very existence of the biggest intermediary - the cinemas. And with them, by the way, that of many supporting businesses, as well - from the sale of popcorn to soft drinks.
The result was that when the virus came and a number of social activities, including movie screenings, were restricted in many countries around the world, digital platforms were in perfect shape to offer an alternative.
The truth is that the film studios themselves have also suffered a lot this year. One after another, many long-awaited movie premieres have been canceled, and most of them still do not have a new date. The industry found itself in a downward spiral - even when (and where) cinemas could operate, they did not have enough new productions to broadcast. And vice versa, film companies didn't know if there would be enough working cinemas to make it worth releasing new movies. That's why the industry's bet on digital platforms was completely logical. And quite naturally, the next step was taken, which turned out to be
the biggest blow
against the movie theaters. It came in early December, when one of the leading players in the sector - Warner Bros. - announced that all 17 of the company's new movies in 2021 will be available on HBO Max along with its movie premieres. And they will be available to watch on the platform for a month at no extra charge. After that month, they will continue to be shown in cinemas. These are long-awaited productions, such as “Dune”, the fourth part of “The Matrix”, “Mortal combat”, “Suicide Squad” and others.
It is an unprecedented move, which can also be viewed as a kind of insurance, in case the battle with the corona virus drags on and the cinemas remain closed longer than expected. However, even if they are able to open, viewers will have a choice whether they want to go and watch on a big screen or lie comfortably on the couch at home. It is not yet clear how many of them will prefer to stay at home, but the blow to the cinemas will certainly be serious.
The decision has already received criticism from the film community. Although he actually benefited from it, the “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve criticized the decision to release the film on HBO Max at the same time as its movie premiere. He reminded that Time Warner, which owns both HBO and Warner Bros., is in turn owned by US telecom AT&T. And he accused the cameraman of “kidnapping one of the most respected and significant studios in film history”. Undoubtedly, a telecommunications company can gain a lot by motivating viewers to use an online platform instead of going to a physical place to watch movies. However, Villeneuve went even further, accusing AT&T of thinking only of its own survival on Wall Street, and that the decision had nothing to do with the company’s love for cinema or the movie's audience.
After such a move by a giant like Warner, industry analysts were quick to point out that there is only one worse thing that could happen to movie theaters. And it's for the other American entertainment giant, Disney, to do the same. Given the huge number of productions and franchises owned by it, this would be the last
nail in the coffin
of the film industry. For now, at least, there is no such danger and the corporation will continue to release its iconic film premieres in theaters first. This is true for both “The Black Widow”, a film from the Marvel universe which has been postponed for about a year, and is expected to hit theaters in May, and the next title in the Star Wars franchise, “Rogue Squadron”. It will probably not be broadcast until the end of 2023.
However, the company will experiment with some productions that will appear simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming platform Disney +. Among them will be, for example, “Raya and the Lost Dragon”, which will premiere on March 5. However, it will be available online at an additional cost. So, the corporation's message is clear - it will develop its digital channel, but cinemas will still remain an important part of its plans and does not intend to take any drastic steps against them in the style of its competitor Time Warner. There is still no information about similar actions planned by other Hollywood giants, which means that not everything is lost for the good old cinema. Still, the question remains: will we be able to win the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic soon, and to what extent will viewers' attitudes change when that happens? For many, going to the movies with friends or a loved one has its magic and it cannot be completely replaced by the digital platforms. Therefore, it is possible that in the event of a favorable development in the fight against the disease, movie theaters will soon have even larger queues for tickets than before the epidemic. As long as they are able to last financially until then.