Can 007 Save Your Cinema?
Latest Bond movie set to reverse stay-at-home streaming trend - but can it?
The latest Bond movie, ‘No Time to Die’, has finally hit the screens. This made-for-big-screen film franchise is the ultimate throw back production, designed for big theatres, big audiences and a once bigger Britain. It is Daniel Craig’s end of era curtain call as the elusive British agent. It could also prove a last hurrah for our struggling movie theatres.
The UK box office takings for the first weekend of Bond’s latest release broke all previous records. At the same time China’s latest film that depicts them beating the living daylights out of their nemesis - the US, drew receipts that were twice as large as Bond’s opening weekend. All while the American film production unions have voted to go on strike so they can renegotiate salaries and benefits for below the line crews to benefit from the huge streaming receipts.
The times are changing, starkly underlined by the acquisition of MGM, the maker of the Bond movies, by Amazon, the streaming giant. The storied studio has a longstanding commitment to the Bond franchise as a big-screen experience. Amazon has promised to keep MGM a separate division to respect their approach… for now.
Some see the release of ‘No Time to Die’ as a starting gun for the return to cinema going. An opportunity to clean those pyjamas and head from the big screen at home to the big screen down the road. Mostly because you can’t get it at home yet. The Bond movie that is.
Movie production was hit hard by Covid. Theatres and movie sets were shut down for months, causing the U.S. box office to lose $5 billion in 2020. Only 338 movies were released in theatres last year, a 66% decline from 2019. The number of movies that began production in 2020 declined significantly, taking a 45% drop to 447.
Thanks to the pandemic, the UK cinema industry experienced its largest audience slump in nearly 100 years, pretty much since records began.
Transformation is being driven less by changes in the in-theatre experience and more by the way in which content can and is being distributed. Oh and by who.
It used to be that films were made for cinema first, TV second. That is changing.
With theatres closed, many film producers moved to streaming. Universal Pictures made a deal with AMC Theaters to shrink the time its movies play exclusively in theatres from 90 days to 17. Warner Brothers started releasing its new movies on HBO Max the same day they went into cinemas—a move that will extend through at least the end of 2021. Disney (film industry behemoth) created Disney+ followed a similar model by releasing some new movies on streaming for an additional cost, and others included in the basic subscription price.
Apparently customers love having access to new releases from the comfort of their homes. Disney+ simultaneously released ‘Cruella’ in theatres and for premier customers and made more than $20 million on each channel in the first weekend alone.
The logistics of producing a big theatre experience has become cumbersome and expensive, driving a shift towards reboots and sequels to lower the risk profile of larger productions. At the same time more animated movies are being made, which benefit from creative teams working remotely. Independent production studios are welcomed into the monied arms of streaming platforms.
It seems that the industry is transitioning to streaming first, and movie theatre second. The accelerated trend of simultaneous releases while the industry realigns itself around digital streaming services, with content designed for streaming, actors equally happy to work for Netflix as Universal Pictures and networks following Disney’s hybrid model, launching their own steaming channels is a challenge to the local cinema.
As large screen, hyper connected TV’s get cheaper, the stay-at-home movie will become increasingly popular. It is likely that this shift to at-home entertainment will extend to theatre, opera, sport and live concerts.
This, in turn, will force live venues to realign their model so they can create their own hybrid approach and lessen the dependence on film studios. We will go to the Odeon to watch la Traviata and Cats (the play) as well as the latest TedX talks. It won’t just be a place to watch the newest release from Marvel.
We’ll watch American football at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. Oh wait.
Equally, sports clubs, theatres, music venues and museums could start developing their own digital content and dedicated streaming channels.
We can expect venues to focus harder on ‘community’ with themed bars, restaurants and community activities to drag us away from our increasingly connected homes. As TV screens get larger we will have less of a need to seek out the big screen cinema experience, but we will seek out the ‘other people’, shared live-venue experience.
We should remind ourselves as we hit the cinemas for Daniel Craig’s last James Bond hurrah, that it might beckon a final swansong for the cinema industry we once knew, submitting to a future of streaming. No wonder MGM succumbed to Amazon. Expect us to do the same.
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