The State of Movie Theaters: Coronavirus and Streaming Services Considered

Image Courtesy

Image Courtesy

By Caroline Kelsick, Contributing Writer

Originally published March 7, 2021.


The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every industry, with some faring worse than others. In person activities involving arts and entertainment have largely remained on pause since March of 2020. Virtual options for arts and entertainment have kept people engaged throughout a large part of the year. Yet, in-person experiences have been either cancelled or dramatically changed, to a point where the arts are just not the same. One such instance is with movie theaters. Movie theaters and the movie business have especially taken a large hit from the changes caused by the response to coronavirus.


In October 2020, Regal Cinemas shutdown all theaters after just reopening in late August. In November 2020, AMC’s third quarter earnings showed as much as $900 million in losses. Throughout the year, the release dates of dozens of anticipated films were pushed back in response to theaters closing, including titles “No Time to Die” and “Black Widow.” The worst part? Movie theaters were already beginning to struggle before the pandemic.


Though the National Association of Theater Owners insists that people will return to theaters after the pandemic, ticket sales were dropping before the pandemic even began. In January of 2020, Deadline reported that 2017 and 2019 ticket sales were the worst the industry had seen since 1995. It’s no stretch to suspect that streaming services have something to do with this. Streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, Disney, and HBO provide at-home access to an abundance of content. The truth of the matter is each streaming site runs a monthly price that’s lower than a single trip to the theater, if you include pricing for tickets and snacks.


In terms of the pandemic, independent theaters are struggling too. Take Norfolk’s local independent theater The Naro for example. The Naro closed its doors back in late March of 2020 and has remained closed since. On the theaters website, co-owner and Veer Magazine columnist Tench Phillips has written about the struggle of re-opening. In June of 2020, Phillips wrote about the uncertain prognosis that comes with awaiting the distribution of rescheduled films that need to compel an audience to attend theaters again.


Though much seems to be drifting away, cinema has not been lost yet. For one thing, attendance of drive-in movies has increased amidst the closing of theaters. Many independent theaters have expanded their ways in which consumers can support them. The Naro is offering virtual screenings for many independent titles and has made private theater rentals available as well. And slowly but surely, chain theaters like AMC are reopening nationwide.


Additionally, many movie-lovers still value the theater experience, no matter how much becomes available to them on streaming services. Even though the state of movie theaters may seem bleak, there’s still reason to count on independent theaters, like The Naro, to pull through. An experience in an independent theater is unlike any other type of movie-viewing. Many other predictions have been made that paint eager and revitalized people returning to a post-Covid society. Perhaps movie-lovers will too be especially excited to attend an opening night at their favorite indie theater.