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Cinema Coronavirus: Will self-isolation change the way people watch movies?

Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

At least for a while, the coronavirus has the world hunkered down at home.  “Social distancing” creates a lot of time to fill and worries to escape from.  We’re already seeing dramatic upticks in things people do at home, like watching TV and gaming.    But there is also evidence it may trigger lasting changes in how people consume entertainment they usually get *outside* the home, like movies. 

This week we learned that Universal will shorten the theatrical window for movies like “Emma” and “The Hunt” (in theaters now), and skip it completely for the release of “Troll’s World Tour” next month.  How will consumers react?

In June 2019, we asked consumers if they’d pay to stream popular movies at the same time that they are available in theaters.    A lot were interested:

  • Many are willing to pay to see theatrical releases at home:  29% of all respondents said they would definitely or probably pay (up from 25% in 2018)
  • Especially younger viewers:  almost half (45%) of respondents 18-34 say they’d be willing to pay
  • Many are willing to pay a lot: a quarter of all respondents, and more than a third of younger viewers, would consider paying as much as fifty dollars

This is how people felt when movie theaters were still open.  It seems reasonable to suspect that with the prospect of hours to fill at home, and with so many of the outlets for their disposable cash closed indefinitely, people’s interest is even higher now.  In the immediate future, direct-to-streaming may be a way for studios to stay engaged with consumers and defray some of its losses at the box office.  But we won’t be cooped up forever. The real question is whether consumers will form new habits in the meantime – with the implicit help of the studios – that change the value proposition of going to the movies when theaters reopen.