While it’s no secret that entertainment has been trending towards streaming for the last decade, the recent COVID-19 pandemic seems to have solidified these changes.
In fact, since the pandemic began, many people who were once theater-going fanatics have been slow to return- instead opting to watch the latest content from the comfort of their own homes.
Despite these shifts, entertainment giants like Disney recently announced a move to theater-only releases for their upcoming blockbusters.
But this begs the question; are people ready to return to their pre-pandemic movie-going habits? Could this isolate mega-fans and casual movie-goers alike? Or, is this exactly the push we need to get us back in theaters?
We decided to investigate.
Setting the Stage
Long before any of us knew what was to come in 2020, streaming had already made seismic shifts in the entertainment space.
The first real shockwave came in 2007 with the launch of Netflix’s streaming service. During those early days, most of the content found on these platforms was simply pre-existing (see: old) movies and TV shows. But all of that changed in 2012 when Netflix released its first original show. Not long after, Amazon and other platforms followed suit. And the rest is (modern) history.
Theaters, however, remained the bastions of big-budget blockbuster content. That is, until 2020, when studios were faced with a difficult choice: hold back new content until the "end" of the pandemic, publish it via a streaming platform, or opt for a simultaneous release?
Unfortunately, no route has offered a guaranteed path to success. Leaving many of us to wonder where movie theaters will stand in the coming months and years.
Multiple studies, including our own, show that while Americans are returning to activities like dining out, socializing, and shopping, they have been a bit more hesitant to return to their pre-pandemic entertainment behavior.
Movie theaters have been hit especially hard. Over half of our respondents reported feeling that the pandemic negatively affected their interest in going to theaters. Obviously, this comes as no surprise for most of us.
But, what is surprising, are the factors that seem to hold sway for many consumers.
In-Home vs In-Theater Experiences
People enjoy watching content at home- this is nothing new.
But, as the pandemic forced studios to release new movies directly to streaming platforms, people have gotten the chance to enjoy a new type of content from their couch. And they now place a high value on the experience. So much so, that if entertainment companies hadn’t moved to theater-only releases, a good chunk of our respondents (43%) would have likely chosen to watch upcoming new releases at home.
What's more, nearly 55% stated they would wait to watch a new movie at home over watching it in theaters.
Honestly, it's hard to blame them. Not only is home viewing more convenient for most, but it is also safer and much cheaper- especially when factoring in concessions. In fact, nearly 45% of our respondents stated that they were unlikely to see a movie in theaters within the next three months.
A Silver Lining
While this may seem like bad news for studios and theaters, there is a silver lining.
A non-insignificant number of people do miss their pre-pandemic movie-going habits- 31% of our respondents would still rather go see a movie in theaters, over watching it at home.
That segment may not be large enough to prop-up box office numbers, but there is another interesting data point in-favor of theater-only releases.
It turns out, that if there's one thing that can encourage people to head into their local theater, it's a new release!
In fact, more than two-thirds of our respondents reported new releases as a crucial motivator for theater-going; winning out over other potential advantages like screen size, 3D technology, and even the opportunity for family bonding.
Not only will the move back to theaters capture audiences who already prefer this viewing format, but it seems even those that grew to love in-home releases may be persuaded to return to theaters for the latest and greatest content.
What Theaters Can Do
The final major factor that holds influence is simply the theater itself. Specifically, their safety policies- or lack thereof.
About half of respondents believe that theaters are doing the best they can to keep people safe. And we should note, the majority of the remaining respondents were simply unsure if the safety precautions are truly enough to make an impact.
Thankfully, respondents readily provided some insight into what would make them feel the safest. Enforcing a mask mandate (43%), implementing capacity restrictions (40%), having a strict cleaning policy (38%), and even mandating vaccines (32%) were the most popular suggestions that respondents gave.
While it may take some time to return to our "usual" entertainment habits, it appears that consumers are at least open to coming back. But, it will be up to studios to reel in viewers with enticing content and theaters to provide safe and clean environments.
As with all our insights projects, this study was built, distributed, and analyzed with SightX- an all-in-one platform for human understanding. For studies like these, we can easily go from ideation to insights within a week- allowing us to stay on top of the trends we're covering.
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