Did cinemas die today?

COVID-19 has hurt cinemas badly - could this be the end? Is Hollywood moving to streaming?

Publishing ABW at the moment is an interesting experience. Every day this newsletter curates the most interesting and relevant news stories of the day about screen culture - mostly TV, but often movies, video games, and VR. But this week almost every news story is about shows being shut down, staff at networks/streamers reporting they have it, and the occasional celebrity who is announced as having it.

For example, today:

  • The new Amazon Lord of The Rings show has shut down in New Zealand. Source: Deadline

  • A Hulu staffer tested positive in Santa Monica. Source: Deadline

  • Future James Bond Idris Elba has tested positive and is self-isolating. Source: Variety

But how interesting are these stories now? Most shows have already shut down production, so another show shuttering is just inevitable news. BREAKING: water is wet.

And a staffer/celebrity has the coronavirus? A good majority of people will eventually get it - what’s important is that we try and minimise transmission so that not everyone gets it at once. New infections are only really news worthy if it’s a celebrity who is in a risk category, such as an already unwell or older celebrity.

Please stay well Betty White.

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What is worth talking about is the long-term, if not permanent ramifications of a disrupted screen industry as a result of COVID-19. For example…

I think cinemas died today.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have ordered the shutdown of cinemas in their cities.

Outside of those major cities:

In compliance with updated CDC guidelines, AMC Theatres, the world’s largest chain, announced Monday that venues remaining open will cap capacity at 50 people or sell 50% of tickets, whichever is less.

“With this action, AMC continues its commitment to adhere to recommendations of the CDC on social distancing, which is an extremely important concept in these unprecedented times,” AMC CEO and president Adam Aron said in a statement.

Source: Variety

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Could Bloodshot really be the last movie some people will ever see in a movie theatre?

Here in Australia cinema attendance was the worst weekend of the year. Most cinemas are still open with govt guidance being to stop groups of 500+ gathering (whether that is per venue or per theatre is unclear, but possibly irrelevant considering general attendance).

Related: cinemas need to be more active about contacting customers with information about what they are doing in regards to cleaning cinemas. I’ve stayed away with the knowledge most cinemas are pretty gross with the lights on.

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Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace general manager Alex Temesvari:

“Business for the holdovers has for the most part dried up and with no major new releases on the way for quite some time, things likely won’t improve until distributor and audience confidence returns.

“The 500 ban shouldn’t affect us too much provided it applies per screen and not per venue. More clarification is needed from the government on that point and a time-frame also needs to be provided.”

Source: if.com.au

With cinemas all reporting low attendance and big titles either delayed or on the horizon, the time is coming for movie distributors to work out what they are doing with their upcoming slate.

And will they take the opportunity to influence the exclusivity windows that movie theatres maintain? The answer appears to be yes.

Deadline today report that NBCUniversal’s Universal Pictures is moving its new release films currently playing in cinemas to premium video on demand. Viewers will be able to stream The Invisible Man, The Hunt, and Emma from Friday on-demand for $19.99 each. They will be rental-only with a 48-hour licence provided.

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Meanwhile the DreamWorks Animation film Trolls World Tour which was set to debut in cinemas in the US on April 10 will now be available to rent or buy on the same day on services like iTunes, Amazon and VUDU. Source: Dark Horizons

Premium Vod Is Here Thanks To Universal

Suggesting that cinemas have died is an exceptionally bold thing to say. Cinemas aren’t going to go away entirely. But for the past couple of years film distributors have been looking for a way to shrink and possibly eliminate the window of theatrical exclusivity (traditionally 70-90 days) to introduce day and date releases with cinemas and streaming platforms. The theatrical exhibition industry has understandably been resistant - COVID-19’s impact on cinemas may have given Hollywood the cover it’s been looking for.

Worth keeping your eye on is what Disney does with the release of Black Widow in the coming months. Due for release on April 30 (in Australia, May 1 elsewhere), the movie hasn’t yet been cancelled or delayed. Would Disney risk releasing the cinemas exclusively into cinemas? With so many Marvel films in the pipeline (which are also linked with the storylines of big release Disney+ shows), they can’t really afford to delay the release of the film.

Releasing Black Widow direct to Disney+ could be an option. Disney+ is only available now in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand. But next week it launches in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. And then the week after in India. That is a sizable enough footprint to make a streaming debut on Disney+ (or, more likely, a simultaneous release with cinemas) feasible.

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Maybe COVID-19 will pass and it’ll be business as usual. But right now it looks like Hollywood is about to take advantage of this moment.