I go to the cinema a fair amount, and I suspect from the film industry’s perspective, I’m in the top 10 per cent or higher in my frequency of going.
I see a film at the cinema probably every fortnight on average – especially during Oscar season, when we’re deluged with quality films at a ridiculous pace. In the US, the average American went to a cinema 3.5 times in 2019 (down from 3.7 times the year before).
So when cinemas close due to the coronavirus, it’s my disposable income that the studios are missing out on. Yes – I probably skew towards the arthouse end of things, but I go to big dumb action films too. I was certainly looking forward to the new Bond film for example.
Studios are trying to work out how to deal with things, and at the moment, that starts by postponing any major blockbuster until later in the year, or even into next year. Usually there’s a merry dance made by distributors as they try to avoid the competition and not dilute audiences – don’t open your big action film against a big Marvel action film for example.
I suspect that at such point that cinemas re-open – and audiences are prepared to sit in a confined space close to strangers – there’ll be a backlog of films all opening against one another. Although given that every film in production is currently shut down, perhaps that won’t be the case as studios spread their wares our carefully. Although delaying films opening is also a cost to them as it takes longer to earn back the investment.
Anyway, that still leaves the non-blockbuster titles, or those that had just opened. What to do with them?
Some are ending up on streaming services immediately. Notably titles like The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma which had all been running in the cinema when things shut down, have all swiftly appeared on paid streaming platforms to maximise returns from investments already made in marketing.
But the pricing is all wrong. I really would quite like to see Elizabeth Moss in the well-regarded The Invisible Man, but I’m not going to pay £15.99 for a rental. That’s way more than I would pay to see the film in the cinema. Even in the West End, I’d struggle to pay that.
Of course studios are trying to account for the fact that more than one person will be likely see the film in a home environment. But not in my household! And with many people under severe financial pressure at the moment, perhaps being furloughed or even laid off, £15.99 becomes even more untenable.
Lower the price and I will rent.
Some titles have basically jumped into the streaming/DVD window straight away. Vivarium, undoubtedly not a blockbuster title, is priced accordingly, with £3.49 rentals and a purchase price of £7.99. I’ll watch that, even if the subject matter is a bit on the nose.
Mostly distributors have shut up shop, holding everything back. The film pages in newspapers over the weekend were especially bare, with only Mubi having much new stuff – as several art house titles head straight there. Sky has one of its originals available to Sky Cinema subscribers, but that feels like the sort of animation that would barely have gained distribution before the virus.
Some titles will head straight to Netflix or Amazon Prime. I did enjoy watching The Aeronauts on Amazon a couple of weeks ago, having missed it at the cinema – Felicity Jones is fantastic.
On the other hand, Netflix’s big title over the weekend seemed to be an appalling looking comedy about a cop and a kid who swears. (How it is that US television can make really good comedies, but the US movie industry goes straight to the bottom of the barrel, I don’t really understand.)
There are no easy answers, and Matthew Ball’s recent essay doesn’t make happy reading. In the meantime, I will wait until Universal prices The Invisible Man more reasonably.