Do People Wanna Stream and Stay Home or Go to the Theater?

Published on April 15, 2020

You know when you see a large family in a movie theater and start immediately feeling bad for them? You start adding up the bills for them in your head: $15-$20 per ticket, popcorn and soda for everyone, and possibly, the cost of parking. Going to the movie is a big, expensive night for a family. Now, streaming a movie from home and maybe ordering a pizza? The damage isn’t nearly as bad. Like cinemas, there are pros and cons to streaming services, but there’s no question, streaming for a large family is the way to go. 

The Trolls World Tour Debacle 

It’s why theater owners get a little nervous and complain when studios, such as Universal, drop a movie such as Trolls World Tour to streaming. The animated sequel was supposed to go to theaters, but due to the coronavirus, its theatrical release was cancelled. Theater owners were furious when Universal did what they wanted with their movie and released it digitally, allowing families to watch it together without paying the cost of an arm and a leg. 

Was it a Sign of Things to Come?

Likely increasing the fury of theater owners, Universal announced Trolls World Tour had the biggest digital debut ever. It made $50 million its opening weekend, which is a number high enough that must get some theater owners thinking. 

For example, how much would they really need to spend on P & A if they’re dropping a movie on streaming? Do studios have to share less of their profits with streaming platforms than they would with theaters? It raises a lot of questions that, frankly, theater owners aren’t stoked about discussing. 

You know what was especially nice about the release of Trolls World Tour? Together, families could watch it over and over again without having to pay for it multiple times. $20 covered the whole family. When theater owners or filmmakers lambast streaming, especially in the case of Trolls, they’re looking out for themselves, not for families already struggling to go to the movies. Going to the movies, especially an overpriced Arclight Cinema, is a privilege not all people have. $20 a movie on streaming, on the other hand, is a deal impossible to pass up.

A Sweet Deal

It is a very sweet deal, which is probably what has theater owners worried about a potential change in tides. Recently, studios were releasing all their new major titles early on Amazon and other platforms. If the sales numbers were high enough, would they consider skipping theaters? Obviously, for Marvel titles and other majorly expensive movies, that’s not possible, but for mid-sized movies? Perfect, although it’d be a terrible shame to see even less mid-sized thrillers, dramas, and comedies in theaters…Again, there’s good and bad. 

Not all theater owners are worried about the threats posed by streaming. Theaters expect to be back in business by June or July. It’s not a concern for Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi, who tells Deadline studios “are anxious to get back in this business once safety is no longer a concern.” Here’s how a theater CEO views the situation: 

“Universal came out very clearly and made the decision when we were closing our theaters. They felt like they spent so much in marketing money and putting commitments like McDonald’s, that they had no choice. We don’t see any systemic change from all major studios when it comes to their major motion pictures because theatrical is so important to them.”

Make the Theatrical Experience Better

Going to the movies isn’t always a pleasant experience. If theater owners have a problem with streaming, give people more incentive to leave their house and pay for the theatrical experience. Stop dimming the images to save money. Start keeping a better eye and ear on quality sound and picture. Treat rude, talkative or texting patrons as they should be treated. It’s sometimes such a roll of the dice going to the theaters with real money on the line. 

You pay a lot of money and risk having the experience easily ruined by other moviegoers, which major chains rarely do something about, or by bad sound and image. It’s common. There’s no risk, however, to streaming at all. Serious money and time will not be lost. You’re completely in control of your viewing experience. It doesn’t begin to compare to the theatrical experience and watching a movie on the big screen with the right crowd, image, and sound, but the theater experience does have more variables than streaming a movie from home. 

If theater owners want to combat streaming, why don’t they start looking at their own theaters first? Start fixing what problems they have, which are often many. Don’t point fingers at studios for doing what they want to do with their products.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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