Movie theaters vs. streaming: Who will win?

When was the last time you stepped into a movie theater? Remember all those times you would go to watch a movie with friends or family while munching on the iconic movie theater popcorn? Ever since the pandemic hit, the world has drastically changed, including the film industry. Instead of local cinemas, many production companies use streaming platforms such as HBOMax, Netflix, or Disney+ to debut their movies.

Creating movies isn’t easy. Producers and directors work together, evaluating tons of factors to ensure their film’s success, but with the added stress of the pandemic, one important question rises among the many unknowns: How to distribute films to benefit both consumers and companies? 

For their next 17 films, Warner Brothers Pictures plans on “releasing its 2021 film slate via a unique…distribution model in which Warner Bros. will continue to exhibit films theatrically worldwide while adding an exclusive one-month access period on HBO Max.” Wonder Woman 1984 was the first film to go through this new distribution model for Warner Bros. 

Toby Emmerich, Chairman of Warner Brothers, says they can “support all of [their] releases with innovative and robust marketing campaigns for their theatrical debuts while highlighting this unique opportunity to see [their] films domestically via HBO Max as well.”

Pre-pandemic, Fast Company says Disney was “the box-office king.” However, they have experimented quite a bit with their movie releases amidst the pandemic. In December 2020, they released Soul on Disney+, which was free to subscribers. Then this March, consumers had to pay an additional $30 to watch Raya and the Last Dragon. Fans of the platform weren’t too happy about this and were confused. From a corporate perspective, Disney is attempting to promote the theatrical setting rather than streaming to “hang on to whatever box-office dollars can still be had.” To clear up misconceptions, Disney has decided to “[release] films first in theaters exclusively; in theaters, and on streaming simultaneously with a ‘premiere access’ fee for Disney Plus subscribers; or, as with Soul, releasing them at no additional cost on Disney Plus” for their COVID-19 releases.

Specifically, Soul’s free access hugely profited Disney+ by adding “8 million new subscribers in December alone” considering that many other streaming platforms were releasing films and TV shows for the holiday season.  Thus, Disney’s 3 plan strategy for 2021 releases allows them to see which option works best for the platform, consumers, and cinemas alike.

The pandemic has brought a ‘new normal’ to our lives and it’s time we embrace it for what it is. Now that we have access to streaming services,  it’s time to make new movie night memories with cozy pajamas and ice cream, all bundled up on the couch!