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Could Streaming Services be a Liferaft for Scuttled Movie Releases?

There won’t be a single industry left unaffected by the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak, but movies — by the very nature of a theater-going experience — could wind up among the hardest hit.

Big releases like No Time to Die (the latest James Bond film), A Quiet Place Part II, Fast Furious: F9 and Mulan are some of the more notable films to move off of planned March/April 2020 release dates. Late April’s Antebellum has not adjusted yet, nor have summer superhero pictures Black Widow (May 1) or Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5). But with a timeline around when the outbreak gets under control and normal life resumes still in question, you could very well see some or all of those films move to a later date in the year… Or, perhaps you won’t.

With public gatherings cut down severely as the U.S. and other countries opt to minimize human contact, audiences will inevitably find themselves at home far more. Homes that have an increasing number of both free and paid streaming TV services — most of which are owned by the same parent companies releasing the year’s slate of potential blockbusters.

Don’t be surprised if you see at least some of the spring/early summer releases wind up on streaming services in the coming weeks.

Admittedly, doing so won’t recoup the millions in box office revenues lost for many of these films. And if you’re adding certain movies to a service with no additional charge — as would be the case for paid subscriptions, in all likelihood — there’s little to nothing earned on these viewers at all when compared to movie tickets typically running $11-13 or more per person in theaters. Still, if the idea is to get these movies in front of the most eyeballs, streaming has the potential to do that.

For Marvel’s Black Widow most of all, there’s the additional stress of storyline and timing that comes with being part of an integrated cinematic universe spanning both movies and streaming on Disney+. With each film or show leading into the next film or show, there’s almost no wiggle room to push the movie into June/July when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is slated to debut on Disney+ come August.

As we’ve discussed recently in this space, shows like that are what’s going to make Disney+ a bigger competitor to the likes of Netflix, so delays are not an option. An exclusive Marvel film release on the service could be a significant draw for new subscribers, even if Disney’s still losing plenty on ticket costs (something they may be able to make up part of by selling preview ad time despite being an “ad-free” platform).

Outside of Marvel, though, there are potentially more cons than pros when it comes to streaming releases instead of theater. No Time to Die is the only film on that earlier list that would be likely to generate a large influx of new streaming subscribers, and that movie seems set on a move to November at this time. Even if audiences do flock to stream all of these movies, there’s also the issue of what happens once you remove the movie-going experience from the release cycle. Would audiences want to go back to the way things were if they could just watch a movie immediately on their couch — even for a small fee?

We’re going to know less about what happens next before we know more with regard to coronavirus. But as timelines become more clear for when we can resume life as normal, movie studios will have decisions to make. Streaming could be one of them — though not without some real repercussions.