Magic Lanterns gave way to nickelodeons which gave way to silent movie screens, talkies, color, television, 3D, VistaVision, Surround sound, and IMAX. Change is inevitable especially in the movie business.
The digital revolution in cinematography and streaming has changed audience viewing habits. The first benefit of streaming is the constant variety of content. There's more to choose from. The second benefit is more employment for crew members and actors on film sets spread throughout the country, especially in states smart enough to offer tax credits and rebates. Covid-19 sped up the clock but the change in viewing habits was inevitable.
How can theaters compete? First, price point. Not everyone is willing to spend $15 a month for a bunch of Tent Pole Movies they eventually may rent from RedBox. The theater experience is still a social event, a cherished evening out, a place to meet friends. It’s not just the spectacle of big screens, it's the overall theatrical experience that might still attract an audience. Very few theatre chains have gotten ahead of the curve. Their survival now depends on it. Theater chains need to reinvent the social experience of cinema. That is one thing a comfy living room can’t offer.
I'm sure the owners of nickelodeons were incredibly pissed when film projectors came along and people started going to the theaters. Some adapted by going into the theater business. Others were stuck with worthless flickering boxes. Things change. Change is inevitable.
If you grew up with the theater experience, you probably still enjoy it. It's a familiar habit. Big screens are amazing but so is WiFi. Celluloid is a bygone medium for story telling. It still sounds romantic except for the added cost of shooting on film stock and the scratched projections shown a week after a film's release. Before television, movie theaters offered news reels and hours of entertainment, cartoons, shorts, B movies before A movies, Depression Era dish giveaways, and air conditioning. When TV came along movie studios and theater chains panicked. They suddenly had competition. Movie stars under studio contract were forbidden to appear on TV. Hollywood quickly reinvented the theatrical experience with wider movies, better sound, and salacious story lines. They created an experience that early television simply could not match.
Again, things change. There's always change.
There was a time when studios owned their own theaters. Congress declared that to be a monopoly and the independent theater chain was born. Much like TV Networks, streaming services are creating their own content but without the same censorship restrictions placed on broadcast programming. Warner Bros. is now HBO Max. Disney is now Disney+. NBC Universal is now Hulu. It’s all about digital delivery but do you really want to watch Star Wars on your iPhone?
We love movies. Some love big screen epics. Some folks love art movies in dumpy theaters. The theater experience is a communal experience. It’s a social event that's hard to replace.
In a post Covid-19 world, if Wonder Woman1984 were released on the same day in movie theaters as well as HBO Max, costing exactly the same amount to view, which experience would win? Then again, it's only a living room away.