Cinema at a standstill

Empty cinema hall

Empty cinema hall

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the Hollywood film industry has swiftly revised its business model and within that time, the concept of cinema has radically changed, at least for the short-term.

This change is largely a response to the forced closure of theatres across the world as studios have instead made the decision to release their films to Video on Demand (VOD) months earlier than expected, giving viewers the option to pay a fee and gain instant access to new releases right in their own homes. 

There’s an inherent equity to this new model that is certainly worth noting as people who might not be in a position to go to the cinema on a regular basis, if at all, can now access new options at a reasonably affordable price. Furthermore, unlike mainstream Hollywood cinema where multi-million-dollar blockbusters typically garner the most success (at least, financially speaking), the new model of viewing has made available a range of world and independent cinema that usually gets lost in a sea of superhero films. With any luck, such a shift might incentivise audiences to seek out films that they might otherwise never have seen, or simply not have had access to. 

Benefits aside, a part of me can’t help but mourn the temporary (I hope) death of cinema. Now, I know in comparison to the world’s larger issues, that’s small potatoes. And I guess the reality is that in a moment when we’re facing actual life-and-death, anything that isn’t necessity feels like frivolity. So, yes, maybe mourning the demise of traditional cinema is frivolous but maybe it also contributes to the larger anxiety we’re grappling with; an additional unknown in an environment already swarming with unknowns.

Truth be told, Covid-19 or not, audiences have been drifting away from the cinema experience for a while in favour of streaming services (which will no doubt continue to thrive in this period of self-isolation). I understand it well enough, but I’m also acutely aware that the loss of cinema means the loss of the communal viewing experience. People won’t be consuming content as a shared cultural experience in a shared singular moment, they’ll be streaming content, at different paces, before moving on shortly thereafter. 

Maybe I’m naïve to think this hasn’t been coming for a while. Indeed, with the exception of the elusive Tarantino film, or even something more customary, like a Marvel film, cinema releases don’t hold the attention of the collective like they used to. We’ve long been caught in between two worlds: cinema and streaming. Covid-19 has just exacerbated that pre-existing tension. 

So, will VOD replace the cinema experience permanently? I suspect we won’t know for a long time to come. Either way, I know what I’ll be doing when cinemas re-open.

Tagged in movies, Film, Culture, What messes with your head