Photo by Nate Grant on Unsplash

The sound of inevitability

November 20th, 2020
Photo by Nate Grant on Unsplash

A lot of things have changed since February/March this year, and some of these things are not going back to the same exact way they used to be. It’s been said a few times before that this global pandemic has forced quite a few industries to take the inevitable technological changes that were going to take 15-20 years and compress them into a couple of months if not weeks.

One of these industries lies close to my heart – making movies and TV shows (for which I’ve been doing quite a few interviews recently) and getting them to the viewers. As spring went into a long summer, and now fall is going into a long winter with no clear path “out” of the current situation that we find ourselves in, the theatrical / exhibition side of the business is in deep, deep trouble. It is trying to position itself as an integral, vital part of the industry, and yet it’s becoming clearer with each week that passes that they were, well, a middleman.

As I wrote a few weeks ago:

A part of me wishes that the studios were a bit more desperate to release the big blockbusters that were scheduled all through 2020 and then postponed again and again. A part of me wishes to see what kinds of innovations we might see down the road when going to a movie theater is not considered to be a vital part of releasing a movie. Does Disney make some sort of a Marvel Pass that lets me in on all that franchise movies and shows for a flat $50 a year? Do I get a refund if I stopped watching a movie partway through because I didn’t like it? Do I get some sort of a discount for watching the next “Fast & Furious” if I already paid the full price for the last one?

While “Mulan” was undoubtedly a big move from Disney, I see Warner moving “Wonder Woman 1984” to streaming as a much bigger move. And before you say anything, I want to be realistic and say that no, it’s not going to drive huge crowds of viewers into enclosed, dark theatrical spaces where you may or may not be surrounded by complete strangers who may or may not pass on things that you may or may not want to be passed on.

What I do find fascinating is the business side of what used to be the big six, and now the big five movie studios. As I wrote:

Universal is part of NBCUniversal which is, in turn, part of Comcast. Comcast revenue for 2019 was $108.9B. Paramount is part of ViacomCBS. Warner is part of WarnerMedia (along with HBO and CNN) which is, in turn, part of AT&T. AT&T revenue for 2019 was $181B. Disney (after having acquired Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox) ruled the domestic market in 2019 with almost 40% share, and the parent conglomerate reported the revenue of $69.5B for 2019.

And while technically they are not desperate to take the huge blockbusters they’ve been sitting on for much of this year and get them to the viewers, every month that passes does add just a bit of pressure to the senior leadership of those smaller divisions to put at least some money into the earnings column.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is going to be made available for no additional charge to all HBO Max subscribers. AT&T has been building up that vertical pipeline for some time now, and understandably, they are anxious to get some of the money flowing back. Universal has Peacock. Disney has Disney+. Paramount has CBS All Access. Columbia is the odd one out, given that Sony pretty much gave up on Vue and Crackle. I actually had to look those up.

I don’t know how things are going to look like going into spring. I’m about 80% positive that Disney will put “Black Widow” on Disney+ in the next few months. I’m about 80% positive that Universal is going to put “Fast & Furious 9” and “No Time To Die” on Peacock before this coming spring is over.

Moving the big releases to the screens that people have on them (phones, tablets) or in their living rooms (flatscreen TVs) was inevitable. It was going to take 5-10 years, no matter how loud the inevitable hand-wringing and doom-spelling that the movie theater trade association lobbyists could be. And even though the original Matrix trilogy didn’t end up well for Agent Smith, this transition is inevitable. By the time it’s done, going to a movie theater will be the same as buying your favorite Lana Del Rey album on vinyl. Charming. Sweet. A bit old-fashioned.