Movie theatres struggling to compete against streaming giants face a grim reality and future

Written By Tyler Krajacic, For The Globe

There was something special about the atmosphere of any movie theatre during a busy night or an opening weekend of some hyped-up blockbuster movie you’ve been begging your family/friends to see with you. You saw the bright lights, as well as the magnificent and almost intimidating structure that came into view as you drove up. You saw other people walking in. The door opens, and you smell the buttery popcorn in the air that’s only made that way in the theatre. You look at all the snacks, but the ones you sneaked in are a little better (and of course cheaper). The slushie machines are circling endlessly and the buzz is in the air. The dim, golden lighting leads you to the room that’s showing your movie. You walk in the darkness only to be impaled by intense vibrations. Those vibrations are turned into a masterful orchestration of sounds due to the systems in place. The screen is your entire world. You’re exclusive—your reward for being here in this moment is getting to see previews of movies before the Average Joe. You turn to your partner, shooting off your expert opinions of, “Oh, we should see that movie,” or “That movie is gonna bomb.” Then the lights cease to exist, the screen is the sun of your universe, and the show has started.

That’s my romanticized intro. My point of making you read that is because simply, nostalgia sells. I partake in nostalgia trips like most other people, and I’m sure you do too person-who-is-reading-this. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Yet, what happens when nostalgia loses its grip on us when it’s replaced by something more efficient, cheaper, quicker, and convenient? We tend to look forward towards the new things in our life. This new thing is exciting, and everyone needs a little change in their life sometimes. This thing has been here for a while but is hitting its stride like that one guy who lets loose at every wedding dance floor. This thing of course is streaming. Conglomerates such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and even YouTube (to a lesser degree) have impacted the way we view our content. Wear whatever you want, eat whatever you want, be with how many people you want (you can also avoid the awkwardness of going to a movie theatre by yourself), and simply enjoy what’s being presented to you with your own surroundings. The idea of a movie theatre has now become outdated, inefficient, and expensive in the streaming era. It is streaming’s time to shine and shine as much as previous media darlings, newspaper, radio, theatres and cable network television.

You may argue that theatres will always be around. It’s “The Experience,” the sounds, the smells, the big screen. We live in a society that loves options and entertainment. Seeing a movie in a theatre is a superior option to some people. I would agree with your statement that some people are willing to pay for the theatre experience, and there’s a market for it. If we don’t have a catastrophic national disaster or economic downfall or anything that changes the landscape of our living as we know it, we should be good! Just some hypotheticals anyway.

Oh shoot…I guess we don’t always get what we want.

The Movie theatre industry was once an $11.8 billion industry…and that was only three measly years ago. I know, I know, how bold of me to assume an industry is declining and slowly becoming irrelevant when it just made $11.8 billion more than I’ll ever see. Yet the impact of COVID-19 has not only changed the landscape of how we communicate but a survival of the fittest type of competition within businesses. Small businesses left and right are going out of business, including local/independent theatres.

Moreover, the big fishes aren’t swimming so well either. AMC Theatres lost $561 million in one quarter in 2020, with revenue down 99%. ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres closed hundreds of their locations permanently. An overwhelming majority of independent/local theatres cease to exist due to larger theatres and corporations gobbling them up like they’re Halloween candy. Now those larger businesses that once prevailed as solid investments and money-makers are now struggling to get by due to unforeseen circumstances. There are only six theatre companies with over 50 locations across the United States and only three businesses with over 100 competing against one another. You know things are not on the upswing when a virtual monopoly is struggling.

This year, despite narrowly escaping bankruptcy (for now) due to an infusion of cash, the company is trying to get back on track by accepting Bitcoin. They’re making deals with Warner Bros. and other studios to have theatrical releases of movies in certain time frames. The movie industry is trying to help save this national pastime. During the Great Depression and up to World War II, 85 million people went to the movies weekly. That means six out of 10 people back in the day were going to theatres on a weekly basis. It was America’s escapism from failed politics, poor finances and a pit of pain they felt in their stomach due to only drinking soup broth and a slice of crusty bread. As long as they are running, these theatres have the potential to reach the place they once were. The chances of that happening are another conversation with not very optimistic odds. Their goal is primarily avoiding starvation, becoming a survivor.

Where do we go from here? That old and overused cliché is always thought-provoking. Streaming isn’t going anywhere. Streaming is the crème de la crème of media innovation and going forward will be our choice of bombarding our minds with too much information whether you like it or not. Change is a constant within any form of entertainment. Literature was royalty at one point, radio was king at one point and cable television was our dearest friend in the darkest of times. Movie theatres were the activity that brought people together from every slice of social life, economic life or even diverse backgrounds. You always get a share of something new while staying along the lines of comfortable familiarity. New people, new movie, the same social concept. Yet, all these things were replaced by something new. It’s the natural order of life. One day we’re gonna be replaced, including streaming itself. We might as well enjoy our movie which we call, “Life,” and adapt to change when necessary.

Don’t forget, nostalgia sells. We might as well have fun and be proud of what we like. It doesn’t matter if it’s dying, thriving, struggling, unknown, or common. Everything is nice while it lasts.

My verdict: Movie theatres stick around for the foreseeable future but don’t compete with the streaming empire. They never make up the lost revenue and business. It becomes another form of media that trickles down to more of a niche such as records, books, or even VHS tapes. It’s useless to the common person, but for the people who love those mediums, man oh man, they sure love them.