Peter Kafka, writing for Vox, peers into a crystal ball and sees where movie theater experiences and streaming are headed.
Going to the movies — with friends, with strangers — and enjoying something together in the dark for a couple of hours is a very specific experience, and it’s getting taken away from me. And from us: We are a country that does a lot of the same stuff, but we don’t do it much together anymore. We’re asynchronous and alone. Movies were an exception to that.
How did we get here? Slowly, then all at once: Yes, the pandemic forced movie studios, out of desperation, to stream movies they might have once tried to put into theaters. More importantly, the pandemic gave studios the ability to do something they had wanted to do forever — shrink the “window” of time between when movies debut in theaters and when you can see them at home.
In the old days, you used to have to wait three months to watch a movie at home. Even then, you had to buy it on DVD or pay to download it. Now the industry standard is a 45-day delay — at which point you can watch them on a streaming service you probably already subscribe to, like Disney+ or HBO Max. Not exactly free, but close enough — and, as Rich Greenfield, an analyst at Lightspeed Partners notes, enough to create a very powerful cycle: If it’s not a movie you’re dying to see in a theater, you can be rewarded for your inaction and get it at home weeks later. Which makes studios even less likely to try to get anything but a slam dunk in the theater to begin with.
Ultimately, Kafka thinks all of this will eventually mean a consolidation of streaming services and finding ways to keep people at home. The movie theater experience will be only for big-budget extravaganzas like superhero movies and low-budget horror films.
Aside from the streaming services being bought by each other, the rest of it is already happening. A movie on a streaming service won the Best Picture Oscar, it’s all over but the shouting.
Personally, I can’t wait until Disney buys DC Comics, Image Comics, and the rest of them to put out the superhero movies people will love to go see. I’m also waiting for Apple to buy Netflix, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.