While people are stuck at home, there is little else to do other than Netflix and chill, but can the internet handle all the streaming video?
Universal Studios faced a dilemma with its family-friendly film “Trolls World Tour.”
Movie theaters had closed due to the coronavirus pandemic’s collective lockdown. So the studio could either shelve the film indefinitely or do what was previously unthinkable in Hollywood – release it directly to homes first for on-demand streaming, something theaters had been fighting for decades.
It chose the second route and, boy, is Universal glad it did.
The studio reports that “Trolls” generated over $100 million in just its first three weeks, from outlets like iTunes and Amazon Prime Video, which charged $19.99 to watch it over a 48-hour period.
And now our collective couch surfing will never be the same.
There’s no place like home
Home is now firmly where our entertainment hearts are, and certain trends – like never leaving our living rooms to watch our favorite films – have accelerated as a result of the great pandemic of 2020.
For major Hollywood films like “Trolls,” $100 million doesn’t represent a massive hit. But the big story here isn’t the amount of money the film grossed so far. The big story is that Universal did it at all, releasing the film first into our homes and breaking one of Hollywood’s greatest taboos in the process.
Until now, and for decades, Hollywood studios essentially always released their films first in theaters for several months before making them available at home for streaming or download. This system – known as “windowing” – made theaters the only game in town for anyone who wanted to see major new films. By releasing its film for streaming at home, no matter what reason, Universal shattered that window. And now the genie, as they say, is out of the bottle.
So expect a barrage of major new films to come to you, in your homes on the same day they come to theaters once they reopen. Not all films, mind you.
Don’t expect massive Gen Y and Z-focused superhero event films to stream on Day 1 on your favorite streaming service. But family-friendly and adult-focused films, yes. And face it, that’s most movies. There are only so many superheroes to go around.
The new entertainment ‘normal’
Even before the pandemic, consumers benefitted from more streaming choices than ever before. Netflix faces massive new competitors like Disney+, Apple TV+ and soon HBO Max, so we already had more reasons than ever to sit back on our couches.
But COVID-19’s new realities force us into experimenting with new tech-driven home-centric entertainment and virtual technologies, establishing patterns that will stick once the coronavirus clears.
“Trolls World Tour” breaking decades-old theatrical release windows is just one of them.
In the world of music, we can’t see our favorite artists perform at concerts or festivals right now. But we can watch more and more of them live streaming performances into our homes. Meanwhile, gamers now game more than ever – and watch others game virtually in a burgeoning streaming-driven industry called esports – from their bedrooms. Some of us now even give virtual reality a real try for the first time to escape from today’s sobering realities and enter more friendly worlds, all from the comfort of our own couches.
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Even our personal and professional lives have changed significantly, for some of us radically, as a result of home-centric tech that we use for the first time during our collective quarantine.
Where many hadn’t really thought about (or felt comfortable) using Apple’s FaceTime or Skype to connect with grandparents, the Houseparty app to hold virtual happy hours with friends, or Zoom video to work from home and connect with colleagues, these unprecedented times have forced accelerated adoption of these virtual technologies. Hollywood itself is getting into the act.
Is this the end of theaters?
Of course, out-of-home entertainment experiences won’t disappear once we can open our doors and smell the fresh air. After all, society doesn’t just live by tech alone.
Most of us still like to get out, rub shoulders and attend a good concert or travel (physically, not virtually) to strange lands. Real-world experiences are certainly more lasting than in-home virtual ones. So out-of-home entertainment will thrive once again.
But today’s forced adoption of new entertainment technologies has raised the bar on what it will take to lure many of us out of our homes and spend our even more limited cash. Movie theaters will not vanish as a result of these new realities.
They will, however, need to give us experiences that cannot be replicated at home. Even by the best that Silicon Valley has to offer.
Peter Csathy is the chairman of CREATV Media, a media, entertainment & tech-focused business development, M&A and advisory firm.
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