COVID-19 has changed the game for the film industry – forever
At the beginning of the year the world was promised the much-anticipated twenty fifth addition to the famed spy film series, James Bond. Set to be Daniel Craig’s last time donning the ‘license to kill’ before someone new takes up the mantle, No Time to Die’s April release was pushed back towards the end of 2020. While that only means a few more months of waiting, this move is telling of the absence of Hollywood since the coronavirus broke out.
A direct victim of the chaos ensued by the global pandemic, the film industry has come to grinding halt down entirely for the time in history (indeed, not even world wars halted the silver screen). As cinemas lick their wounds from over 6 months of closures, major studios are reassessing what distribution and box office takings look like. And whilst the institutional film players that have dominated Hollywood for over a century look to adapt their business, streaming services are enjoying a boom time. Services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBOMax, Disney+, AppleTV+ and others have nimbly responded to the film crash by churning out content and license deals at an unprecedented rate – and scooping up millions of new subscribers in the process.
Even big studio blockbuster films have not been spared from the 2020 aftershocks. Like Bond, Disney’s Mulan remake was pushed – three times- from its original spring release date to an eventual direct-to-streaming fate via Disney+.
Disney is providing the film solely to Disney+ subscribers – but at an extra cost of $30 (in addition to an annual subscription that costs twice as much), causing a very public backlash from those fans that would have otherwise viewed it for much less at cinemas. Regardless, the ‘Mouse House’ is set on recouping the whopping $200 million they spent on the production – at any means necessary (NB: by mode of comparison, Avengers: Endgame cost $356 million to make).
Luckily for Disney, it can rely on its sixty million digital streaming subscribers to get it through its lowest box office revenue year on record. Looking to appease apparent critics, Disney CEO Bob Chapek recently confirmed that the film would be shown in cinemas, where possible, in locations that do not have access to Disney+. Not all is grim news at Disney, however; Chapek managed to acquire the rights to distribute the popular musical Hamilton via its streaming service – a win that has gained his company a larger audience upswing this July than any of rival Netflix’s shows.
Regardless Netflix remains far more profitable than Disney, with shows like the Tiger King becoming fast cultural phenomena across the globe (Tiger King has reportedly been greenlit for its own miniseries) and capturing hearts and minds. Timely distribution has also aided Netflix in conquering the stream-waves, delivering shows like Coronavirus, Explained (a spin-off of the pre-existing educational series, Explained, with actors J.K. Simmons, Laura Linney and Idris Elba narrating the three-episode documentary), Contagion (a 2011 film with Kate Winslet about an eerily similar global pandemic) and Money Heist (La Casa de Papel – an original Spanish series that had fallen flat in its local market but thanks to Netflix’s powerful distribution it became one of the most viewed shows in its history).
Netflix Party, an innovative Google Chrome plug-in has also greatly benefited the platform, enabling family and friends separated by distance to watch a show or movie at the same time (it even comes with a nifty chat window that allows for commentary). Clearly Netflix hasn’t lost its momentum but rather has continued to gain from the global pandemic.
American streaming companies are not the only ones that have reaped the benefits of millions of viewers staying at home. In the Middle East, an Emirati dual satellite and streaming services provider, OSN (Orbit Showtime Network) oversaw a massive turnaround by establishing an exclusive partnership with Disney. Before April, it was hard for the small company to compete with its large American rivals that have for so long firmly entrenched themselves on TV and digital screens everywhere but thanks to a strategic partnership with Disney+ it has overtaken its local competition.
It is no doubt that we are all now reliant on digital streaming for our content. With the advancement of the digital world accelerating at an unprecedented pace, all prospective film and television creators must bear in mind that viewers are likely to stream their content in smaller screens, with less attention span and binge more mindlessly than ever.
Understanding this key pattern has led Apple to wisely format their approach to content based on Netflix’s best successes. To compete they have rapidly roped in the stars that multi-platform streamers have loved the most in the last 10 years – everyone from Jennifer Aniston to Steven Spielberg – and enticed them into Apple+ by allowing them to create their own high production, award-winning entertainment.
It is important to see how much the film industry has changed since we came to watch movies digitally. Although it is undeniable that people will most likely still go to the cinema; Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+ and other streaming services are now the viewer’s norm. Leading the way with burgeoning distribution and quick paced production – streaming services have one-upped traditional film studios, like Universal Pictures or Warner Brothers (who are also hoping to hop on the streaming bandwagon) to becoming the studios of the future.
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