Fresh Air

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Pandemic Breaths New Life into Old Entertainment

“Long ago, the world was full of wonder. It was adventurous. It was exciting. And most of all, there was magic.” – Wilden Lightfoot, “Onward,” Disney, 2020

Staying at home, working from home was fun … until it’s wasn’t.

“Long ago, the world was full of wonder. It was adventurous. It was exciting. And most of all, there was magic.” – Wilden Lightfoot, “Onward,” Disney, 2020

Face it, you acted/looked like a hibernating bear.

But even bears have to come outta their cave, so it’s time to go to the movies.

*&^%, the theater is closed so, you retreat back to the safety/security of your living room to stream something, anything.

Actually, going to the cinema (even if they were open) is probably not going to be high on anyone’s list.

It certainly didn’t work in China so, why would it work where you live:

  • There was an aborted attempt to open 500 of its 70,000 cinemas in late March – shuttered since January to control the spread of the virus.
  • They ordered them to close again a week later.
  • Folks didn’t really notice because the box office was called a minimal function (miserable is a better description).
  • The lockdown has been lifted; theaters are reopened but again, ticket sales suck.
Empty Calories – Rushing back to the cinema to enjoy even a “gotta see” film will take time, especially since people are getting more comfortable with the variety and ease of other entertainment options.

People didn’t head for the cinema.

They headed outta town to take a long-overdue trip or to the hills and great outdoors.

Time to Go – When China lifted their heavy home restrictions requirements, people couldn’t wait to pack bags and go on trips or rush to outdoor sights to enjoy the best nature had to offer.

Returning to yet another dark, enclosed space wasn’t high on their priority list … even if the films were to die for.

And they weren’t!

Major studios – Shanghai Film Park, Hengdian, Zhongshan, Changchun, Bei Putuo, Tongli, Ziangshan and others – stopped content development/production immediately.

They – like everyone in the creation/production industry – have to start almost from the beginning. They have to budget (time, money) development; review what has been done and determine what can be saved, what has to be redone; bring the crew back and unfortunately, determine which positions are now “open” and move as quickly as possible from raw data to final cut.

All of the content will be carefully reviewed by officials before it can be shown.

Approval of foreign-made films for local viewing have to be approved by state-owned China Film Group and that … takes time.

In other words, the pantry was empty.

Theater owners had to rely on the re-release of past films – The Wandering Earth, Green Book, Capernaum and a few others.

Alone Time – When Chinese theaters finally opened, people didn’t have to worry too much about social distancing because attendance was modest, to say the least.

They didn’t pack houses the first time around; and even with added precautions like cleaning the theater before and after every showing, people stayed away … in droves

Assuming that the films being shown were absolutely the best video story ever told and could only be enjoyed/appreciated by experiencing it in a technically balanced audio/video environment, people should have been hungry to get out and enjoy something different.

When the stuff goes to the cinemas, management wants to keep most of the revenue rather than compensate rights holders until they got healthy again.

Chinese theater chains – large and small – also expect to have insurance to cover losses in case someone claims she/he got sick while in the cinema.

Aaahhh … ferget it!

Folks stayed away before and they will now because:

  • It has become natural to watch a movie on impulse when we carve out some escapism downtime.
  • Going to the theatre is a planned event.
  • An evening at the movies costs about $100 for two of us – tickets, popcorn, soft drinks, empty calories – Dots, Good n Plenty, Milk Duds, Raisinets, Jujubes, Skittles, Sweetarts and stuff no one should eat.
Deep Clean – Chinese cinemas took extra precautions to protect movie goers from virus infections – and widely promoted the precautions taken — but still, people stayed away…in droves.

No matter how much you clean it, there’s going to be something spooky about going into a dark room with socially distanced strangers.

It’s hard to justify going back to the AC (after Covid-19) way of life to rush back to the theater to catch the latest and greatest the film industry has to offer.

Lots of the studios read the writing on the balance sheet as well and said, “Hey, let’s follow the eyeballs, and the money, because even in BC (before Covid-19), it was slipping anyway.”

Attendance Down, Revenue Up – Holding films for major showings in film theaters and providing them with an exclusive 90-day viewing window is becoming less important to a project’s success because while theater revenues are up, attendance is down.

You certainly can’t blame the studios or content creators.

They’ve been pushing out projects as fast as possible.

In fact, they had a ton (O.K., a bunch) of real good stuff they wanted to monetize as quickly as possible until the pandemic slammed the cinemas doors shut so, they had to quickly find a new way to reach folks.

Rising Numbers – Film production in the U.S. and Canada has experienced steady growth in recent years, especially since OTT services need a steady supply of new, different movies for their subscribers.

In fact, the damn bug threw the whole theatrical exclusivity buffer (usually 90 days) thingie under the bus.

Universal fired the first shot that BC ain’t coming back by announcing that Trolls World Tour was going straight to streaming.

Not to be outdone:

  • Paramount sold The Lovebirds to Netflix.
  • Disney passed the word that Artemis Fowl could be seen on your local Disney + channel.
  • STX dropped My Spy on Amazon

Of course, Fast & Furious 9 and Minions aren’t expected to blow the doors off the theaters–especially since Secret Life of Pets 2, Lego Movie, Angry Birds 2 couldn’t suck seats into seats. And the rest of the year – even with killer content – doesn’t look that hot.

Oh sure, some folks say no one will want to pay $20 to watch Trolls on their screen.

But, some really smart kid is going to say (well, never mind) but she/he will ultimately figure out their real cinema cost … including concession stuff.

As our son said, “It’s a freakin bargain, dude!”

We realize GCF (Global Cinema Foundation) and NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) are putting up a strong front on how the cinema industry is going to bounce back stronger than ever when the pandemic passes.

Sorry, it’s going to be a long, painful process … even if admittance is free!

Sure, humans (in fact, all life forms) need communal activity – one of the strong benefits of going to a movie – to survive, thrive.

And the country’s cinema chain owners are certainly doing their part to assure/reassure the public that enjoying a movie is not only a great way to relax and enjoy themselves for a few hours, it’s actually going to be better than ever.

The theater is actually cleaner than ever because they will be painstakingly gone over with every detail of viewer safety/comfort in mind.

However, paying a bundle to be in a dark room with 50-100 complete strangers, have never met and will probably never encounter again is something that will take time … lots and lots of time.

Not even Freddy Kruger, Jason, the walking dead, alien or terminator are that ready to put their seat in a seat.

Why risk it?

The minute they can return, theater chains will swing open their doors and invite folks back with crossed fingers.

Of course, that takes breathtaking content – not really there – along with some exclusivity and maybe a bigger cut of the gate (?).

Yeah, right!

Want to go out for your entertainment for the evening?

Do what thousands of lucky folks did around the country and rediscover the drive-in theater.

Resurgence – People across the U.S. and Canada rediscovered the fun of going to drive-in theaters again and can still meet governmental personal safety requirements.

Holy cow, they do still exist!

Actually, in the U.S. there are 305 drive-in theaters that did a rousing business during the shelter in place edict.

Going was logical and safe:

  • You’re certainly in your own space.
  • You’re practicing social distancing because your cars are six ft apart (more or less).
  • You didn’t have to sneak people in in the trunk because most charged $20 per car.
  • You could bring your own snacks but it’s so much more fun to order/pay for the stuff with your smartphone and have someone with gloves/mask deliver them to the car … How cool is that?

In fact, down in Schertz, TX, EVO Entertainment painted the exterior wall of their movie house with high-grain white paint and converted the parking lot into a temporary drive-in and were sold out … every night!

And, according to Mitchell Ross, EVO boss, they did “very well” with their kitchen food orders. Remember how great drive-in hot dogs/hamburgers tasted?

Yeah, we thought so.

What a great way to get outta the house in a safe environment (your car).

You can bet parents never told the kids all the fun they had in the “good ol days.”

Will drive-ins continue to attract people AC?

Probably not as much, but it still holds appeal for those special movie moments when people don’t really care what’s on the screen or for those who want to relive the before BC world for a couple of hours.

Oh yeah!

Or as Barley Lightfoot said in Onward, “Put it in O, for onward!”

Going back into a dark room with 50 or more strangers won’t cut it.

Might as well stay home and stream your entertainment.

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Andy Marken – [email protected] – is an author of more than 600 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. He is an internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields. With his expertise and experience, he has also developed an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.