They’ll Be Back. Why Movie-Going Will Be a Great Business Again

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images from Celluloid Junkee

People have gathered together to enjoy stories since cavemen did around fires. It’s not going anywhere.

Film exhibition — that is the business of showing movies to groups of people in public — matters more to society than most of us may imagine.

Movie-going is both desired by consumers and important to the industry. This is why it is a great business and why it will bounce back stronger post-COVID.

Here’s why:

Movie-going matters to people

People don’t go to the movies because simply because they’re bored or in need of new content, but rather because it is fundamentally a shared cultural experience.

The majority (75–78%*) of movie- goers choose and buy their movie tickets at the box office. People are going to the movies for more than just a story, they’re going to share the experience with others. In the midst of a pandemic, people have gone to remarkable lengths to achieve this experience.

Drive Ins and Open Airs are playing classics. 1993’s Hocus Pocus made $2m at the box office last weekend. We’re not just going for the story, we’re going for a shared experience.

Theaters aren’t simply places to watch movies, they are cultural and entertainment centers in cities and towns. They anchor shopping malls. They are converted community centers, schools and libraries during city wide film festivals.

There’s perhaps no more iconic example than the The Tribeca Film Festival. They used film to bring people together and back downtown after 9/11 and, just these past few months, to quarantined communities across the U.S. through 100s of Wal-Mart parking lots.

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We’ve also always known movies to be one of the more affordable forms of entertainment and escapism. With so much free and accessible content on the internet, that statement is now challenged….except that’s what we thought with the invention of the TV, VCR video tape and then the DVD. Watching films together remains fundamentally different than doing so at home.

Movie-going matters to the industry

The U.S./Canada market alone is $11B. The economics of the exhibition window are critical to small and a large budget films alike because it affects the release stages that follow. Said better by Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw:

“Forgive a brief digression on the economics of the movie business, but all movies make money in stages. They make money in theaters, then they make money from people who rent them at home or buy them, and make even more money licensing the title to TV networks and streaming services. How much money a studio makes from rentals, sales and licensing depends on how it does in theaters.

This formula is how a movie like the most recent Avengers generated close to $1 billion in profit. (That’s a lot more money than a streaming service makes off a single movie.)

By releasing movies at home, the studios have compressed those windows. People buying the movie now are people who won’t buy it later. So not only are studios making less money now than they might have in theaters, but they are surrendering some of the long-term earnings.” — Lucas Shaw, Bloomberg

We know the AMCs and Cineworlds believe all this too. While some cineplexes may close permanently, their absence creates a unique opportunity for innovation to fill in and expand this economy.

Movie-going matters to the young

While the average viewing age of traditional live television continues to increase every year, the biggest movie going segment in the last few years has been 18–24* and 25–39 year olds*.

On screen representation matters because what young people see on screen impacts how they see themselves. They’re advocating for it. And it drives box office.

Movie theaters also provide safe autonomy for young people. And their parents. As Mark Cuban said on Variety’s Strictly Business podcast in January, “I don’t want my 16-year-old to ‘netflix and chill.’”

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Movie-going matters to creators

Yes, big screens and quality sound at home will get cheaper, but recreating the theater experience is more than just the technology.

Cinema is a form of art that was designed for temporal group consumption. That group consumption part is embedded in the art and experience. It’s meant to be immersive. Without distraction for 90 minutes. Designed to enable you to slip into another world.

Social or co-viewing also deepens the emotional experience. Our emotions synchronize* when we watch with other people. Emotion is contagious.

This type of movie-going can be virtual. On Monday night I watched Blumhouse’s The Lie in my home virtually — but with a few hundred strangers on chat. I can tell you unequivocally that the chat function made the experience. I was watching simultaneously, in real time with other people, and feeling that energy. I haven’t emoted at screen that much all COVID (minus the debates — which were also shared experiences).

In a world of seemingly infinite on-demand content, with truly infinite distractions, the appreciation of having the collective attention of a group of people for 2+ hours is truly unparalleled.

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Screenshot of Welcome to the Blumhouse virtual after party

Movie-going impacts us personally

As Owen Gleiberman said it beautifully when he described why theatrical spaces are not just the for action-packed blockbusters:

“…let’s be clear about what the magic is: It’s when the most intimate of encounters — two men murmuring in a diner [Moonlight]; a woman and a man staring across the years in a nightclub [La La Land] — comes to seem impossibly vast. When it becomes larger than life. When it takes place on a screen that is big enough to hold our dreams.”

Read the 100+ emotional and personal responses to @ArrayNow’s question. “If you had the chance to [safely] watch a movie in the theaters one last time, what film would it be and why?”

Watch 12th grader Valerie Tan’s TEDx talk last month on why movies matter — every film she cites had a theatrical release.

Listen to Taylor Swift’s latest album (don’t judge) where a fourth of her songs use film and the movies as reference point to order to evoke emotions. Film going is a cornerstone of American culture.

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Movie theaters aren’t just four walls and a silver screen. Movie theaters are group laughter, bated breath and yes even that one guy talks like the characters can hear him. Its first dates and a weekly senior date nights. Movie-going is a shared experience of storytelling, and there is no risk of something that has been ingrained in humanity since the stone age going away. Something that is both a desired experience — from audiences & creators — and an important part of the industry’s economy.

For all of these reasons, moviegoing, the greater industry of gathering around stories, will continue to be a massive business post-COVID. And we all will benefit from the innovation happening now.

Making sure the films that can change the world, do. Founder of @Picture_Motion @StoryspacesHQ

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