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Coming to An Online Streaming Service Near You: Is the Cinema Under Threat?

14th December 2020

Though the cinema has been a solid backbone of the leisure industry for the best part of the 20th and 21st centuries, the immersive experience provided by movie theatres may soon be a thing of the past.

For commercial tenants such as Cineworld, Odeon and Vue, who operate a multitude of venues around the UK, there are serious questions about whether their industry can continue to survive in the current climate and whether there will be demand in the future.

The internet has revolutionised the way the public watch TV programmes, series and films. Online video-streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ have offered a popular alternative to the cinema from the comfort of viewers’ own homes.

These paid monthly subscription services have proved to be incredibly appealing, with more and more of the population opting to watch TV through streaming platforms compared to terrestrial broadcasts.

As of July 2020, Netflix has amassed over 190 million account holders worldwide, not including the multiple users who share a single account. These streaming services have also benefitted from releases of their own ‘original’ films and television series, which are solely shown online, skipping the exclusive release typically seen at cinemas. Indeed, to rub further salt into the wounds, Netflix’s ‘The Irishman’ was Oscar-nominated this year.

Additionally, the COVID pandemic forced cinemas across the UK to close their doors. As a result, there was a surge of customers signing up for streaming platforms as an alternative, with an estimated 16 million new users signing up for Netflix as national lockdowns were enforced worldwide.

With cinemas given the green light to re-open again for business on 2nd December, industry firms are hoping for some co-operation with production companies to secure a steady stream of new films to attract the public back to theatres. Fortunately, in some cases, this request has been met; Universal Picture’s new James Bond film has been pushed back to be released in cinemas for April 2021.

However, the latest announcement by Warner Bros. Studios would have further frustrated struggling cinemas. Previously predicted by some industry analysts, their decision to release all 2021 films in the cinema and online, at the same time, will certainly feel like the nail in the coffin for movie theatres. Their streaming service, HBO Max, is currently unavailable in the UK, though its introduction may further deter people from venturing out, especially as monthly subscriptions cost less than a cinema ticket.

A fair deal will need to be agreed between cinema chains and production companies concerning how future films are released. Ultimately, this deal will be required to ensure the industry’s survival.

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