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Struggling cinema owners are basing their hopes of recovery from an ‘existential’ crisis on a list of blockbusters delayed by Covid such as No time to die, the latest James Bond film, although the Delta variant keeps many moviegoers glued to their streaming services.
MGM and Universal’s announcement on Friday that they would go ahead with the premiere of No time to die in London on September 28 was good news for global film companies as they gather in Las Vegas for their annual conference this week.
The $ 250 million Bond movie has been delayed three times since its original release date in 2020. But it’s unclear whether other titles, including Sony’s Ghostbusters: the afterlife or Paramount Top Gun: Maverick will be released this fall as planned or postponed.
Whenever they are released, few believe these titles will be able to achieve the global box office gains they would have brought before the pandemic.
CinemaCon, the biggest conference in the movie industry, is usually a love affair between studios and movie chains. But this year’s event comes as movie theater owners face unprecedented tension over Covid and amid tensions between film distributors and studios over streaming.
“The past 18 months have been the greatest existential challenge for cinema ever,” said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, host of the conference. But he said he’s confident the industry could return to the all-time highs of 2019, when ticket sales hit $ 43 billion, and that viewers will return to theaters to see “big movies this fall and this year. winter”.
Others aren’t so sure, however, claiming the 2019 box office may have been the climax amid an epic shift in the movie industry. Even a healthy box office this fall – far from a sure thing – might not alleviate the sense of crisis for an industry whose business model is shaken by streaming.
Theater owners have been alarmed this summer by the “simultaneous release” of films by Hollywood studios to theaters and to streaming services during the pandemic, and many believe they represent an inevitable shift in their home economy. business.
Disney and Warner shocked theater owners and leading actors by releasing summer popcorn movies Black Widow and Godzilla vs. Kong on their streaming services at the same time as the theatrical release, cutting back on the potential box office take.
This is a concern for the big movie chains, brought to the United States by AMC and Cinemark.
“Theaters are really fighting for their lives,” said Jeff Bock, senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “You wonder if people will ever go back to [watching films] as they did.
Disney and Warner Bros.’s aggressive streaming moves sparked a furious backlash, with the movie owner lobby group blowing up the decision and actress Scarlett Johansson filing a lawsuit against Disney for breach of contract. Disney said the costume was “unfounded”.
But Wall Street applauded the studios’ belated decision to follow Netflix in streaming, with investors offering shares in strong subscription numbers for Warner’s HBO Max and Disney + Disney’s streaming services.
“The incentives for studios aren’t about profitability or how to get the best return on a film, but driving subscriptions,” Fithian said.
Valuing the number of subscriptions over profits is not sustainable, he said, making an upheaval among streaming services inevitable. Theaters may not take advantage of the long “exclusivity windows” they had before the pandemic, “but they won’t be the same as during the pandemic either.”
For now, movie theater owners are hoping that the increased vaccination rates will give moviegoers the confidence to return to the multiplex. At the start of the summer movie season in the United States, polls showed that 80 percent of moviegoers were confident they would return to the movies. With the spread of the Delta variant, however, those numbers have fallen to 67% more recently.
“Consumer confidence is not yet sufficient,” said Fithian. “But the big screen is clearly coming back.”